Most educators have been focused on getting students acclimated to a new school year. It’s my job to keep up with what is happening at the Texas and DC Capitols and the Texas Education Agency related to classroom technology so that teachers and administrators can focus on their students. Since what’s happening in these places directly affects what happens in the classroom, it’s important to keep an eye on what the elected officials and policymakers are up to. So, grab your favorite after-school beverage (mine is iced tea from Sonic), kick your feet up on your desk, and spend a few minutes catching up on the Austin and DC scene through this TCEA advocacy update. We’ll review some of the recent changes regarding EFC funding and the TIMA allotment.
Emergency Connectivity Fund Opens Second Window September 28
The FCC is opening a second 15-day window for school districts to apply for funding to purchase eligible items in the Emergency Connectivity Fund. The filing window opens on September 28 and closes on October 13. These funds may be used to purchase connected devices and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons for the current 2021-22 school year. During the first window (July 1-June 30th), the FCC received requests for $5.137 billion. They had budgeted $7.17 billion, which is why they are opening up a second window. Texas districts and libraries requested $496,488,916 in the first round of applications. Any school or library that is eligible for E-Rate support is eligible for the ECF program.
The FCC has published a list of FAQs that may help identify if this fund can be used to address the at-home digital access gap for your students and staff. They have also published a list of common misconceptions surrounding the ECF. I found this list enlightening.
This is an unprecedented opportunity to use FCC funds to help bridge the digital divide. I highly encourage your district to review the FAQs and determine if this money can help meet any home access inequities.
SB 15 Update
Last week, I wrote a blog post on SB 15 which expanded opportunities for virtual learning. I won’t review that bill except to say that the Governor has signed the bill and it is now law. TEA posted their guidance on the bill’s implementation on September 9. You can find the guidelines here.
TIMA Gets a New Name
TEA is in the process of renaming the Technology and Instructional Materials Allotment to the Instructional Materials and Technology Allotment. Their stated rationale is that the Legislative Council, the group that writes the government code from enacted legislation, has consistently called the allotment the Instructional Materials and Technology Allotment.
In 2017, there were two bills that renamed the IMA. One renamed it Technology and Instructional Materials Allotment, and the other renamed it the Instructional Materials and Technology allotment. TEA adopted TIMA in their rules, but the Legislative Council adopted IMTA. Apparently, the bill that is signed by the governor last determines which bill takes precedence. Therefore, we need to get into the habit of calling it the IMTA. However, the result is the same. Technology is included in the title, sending a message that the allotment is designed to pay for both instructional materials and technology.
IMTA Allotment Amounts
Speaking of the IMTA, TEA recently released the amount of funding placed into each district’s IMTA account. Districts will recognize that their allotment was substantially cut this year.
At the June SBOE meeting, Commissioner Morath explained why the legislature cut the TIMA so drastically for this biennium.
Morath indicated that the cost for this biennium’s textbook proclamation is light ($120 million). This means there are still funds available for districts to spend on technology and staff from their TIMA ($430 million). He also pointed out that the state used up to $800 million of federal CARES Act funding during the 2020/2021 school year for technology. He further suggested that there is funding appropriated in HB 1525 that can be used for technology. Additionally, he reminded the SBOE that Texas school districts have recently received $15 billion in federal funding in which technology is an allowable expenditure. And finally, he made it clear that this is a one-time reduction.
Here is the short clip where Commissioner Morath discusses the cut in the TIMA.