By Tim Leeds
Montana State University Northern's PT3 grant coordinator said the U.S. Congress has made funding for the program kind of an up-and-down ride this year, but good could come out of it.
"We could make lemonade out of this," Richter said.
Richter said funding for the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers for Technology grant program was one of the cuts made to allow the $1.3 billion tax cut passed by Congress. But, he said, there are now bills in both the House and the Senate to bring the funding back. He said there is support in Congress for the funding, but it will need support from constituents as well.
PT3 is a federal three-phase grant program to help colleges and universities better prepare education students to use technology in the classrooms. Northern was awarded the first and second phases of the grant, and could apply for the third phase at the end of the second.
The first phase of the grant involved examining the use of technology at the university and in area schools, finding out what technology was used and what needed to be improved on.
The second phase has included creating the Mirror Center at Northern to provide a central location for the program's services, as well as incorporating its findings into the curriculum at Northern and providing training and hardware for the university and its partners in the area Havre Public Schools, St. Jude Thaddeus School and the Golden Triangle Curriculum Consortium.
The third phase of the grant would work to establish a major national presence for Northern's program to act as a catalyst for other universities.
Richter said the program, which is quite new, has been extremely successful where implemented in increasing teacher proficiency in technology.
He said the government has already allocated money to Northern for the program for next year, the second year of the implementation phase. He said the cut would eliminate funding for the third year, funding that would allow Northern to make the program a little more solid.
"That third year of funding would allow us another year to get our feet under us," he said.
Dennis Parman, assistant superintendent of Havre Public Schools, said the opportunity for Northern to better train teachers in the use of technology in the classroom is a great benefit for the schools.
"Absolutely," he said, "for them to have the ability to have the funding and kind of focus on this."
Parman said HPS has always had a good relationship with Northern in placing student teachers, and PT3's focus on "raising the bar in training teachers" will just make that relationship stronger. He said part of the process will be attaching the student teachers with teachers in the schools who use similar technology.
Parman said another benefit of the program is that Northern has been providing the schools with software that they use in the College of Education, so when the student teachers and graduates go to the schools, they will find the same software there.
Shannon Patterson, director of development at St. Jude Thaddeus School, said its partnership with the program has been a lot of help. She said working with Northern to help prepare future teachers to use technology has helped them know where their teachers need to go.
"This grant has enabled our school to be involved in the cutting edge of technology," Patterson said. "It has given us the opportunity to provide education to the teachers and staff, support and guidance in technology, as well as providing additional equipment to enhance our learning environment."
She said part of their partnership with Northern has included receiving new hardware to use in the classroom. They have already received a multimedia projector, she said, and will receive a digital camera, scanner, laptop computer and programs to go with them this summer.
Richter said the chance of losing the funding has made Northern start looking at other opportunities that could make the program more self-sustainable. He said they are now looking into sponsorships by local businesses, corporate sponsorships, other grants, and at creating an educational software clearinghouse and starting an educational purchasing cooperative as ways to help continue the program.
"The threat of losing our budgeting has really got us focused and concentrating on ways that we can be self-sustaining," Richter said.
He said finding other sources of money could help the program in other ways as well. He said there are restrictions on what the federal grant money can be used for that wouldn't apply to other funds, allowing the program to diversify into other areas. He said anything the program does now must directly benefit the pre-service teachers in the program, which limits some of their activities.
Richter said if they can find other sources, the activities of Northern's PT3 program could expand into economic development and other areas, working directly with businesses and people and organizations in the community. He said it will always be teacher-centered, however.
Richter said that although the search for new funding may be a benefit anyway, the program still needs the grant funding that was cut, and that they are hoping the people in the area will show their support.
"We're urging anyone who is in support of new, qualified, technologically literate teachers to give Congressman Rehberg and Senators Baucus and Burns a phone call," he said.
Congressional contacts: Sen. Max Baucus, 511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington D.C. 20510-2602; (202) 224-2651, toll-free 1-800-332-6106; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Conrad Burns, SD 187 DSOB, Washington DC 20510; (202) 224-2644; email email@example.com
Rep. Dennis Rehberg, 516 Cannon, Washington DC 20515; (202) 225-3211; email firstname.lastname@example.org
On the net: MSU-Northern Mirror center: http://www.mirrorcenter.org