Legislative Analyst's Office

Analysis of the 2001-02 Budget Bill

Education Technology

The Governor's budget provides a total of $207 million in state and federal funds to continue ongoing education technology programs for K-12 education as displayed in Figure 1. In addition, the Governor's budget provides $20 million for ten new "high-tech highs" across California. We comment on this proposal below.

Figure 1

Ongoing K-12 Education Technology Funding


Digital High School (DHS)—$76 Million

  • Provides integrated access to technology at every high school.

  • Provided $300 per-pupil installation grants to all high schools over four-year period. Last of four cohorts funded 2000-01. Provides $45 per-pupil ongoing for staff training and technical support.

Federal Literacy Challenge Grants—$49.1 Million

  • Competitive grants to districts (1) with high concentrations of poor children or (2) that are technology-poor. Funds can be used for staff training, software and hardware, and to create links with community.

Internet2—$32 Million

  • Funds University of California (UC) to connect and serve all county offices of education on the Internet2 network. Does not include funds for wiring schools or districts. (See detailed discussion of this program in our analysis of UC budget.)

Professional Development Program—$25 Million

  • Provides grants to consortia of higher education and K-12 entities that apply for funds for teacher training in the use of technology in K-12 classrooms. Administered by California State University. (See detailed discussion of this program in the Education Crosscutting Issues section.)

California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP)—$13 Million

  • The CTAP, through 11 regional offices, provides technical assistance to schools and districts to implement technology.

Education Technology Staff Development, Grades 4-8—$9.3 Million

  • Provides grants ($20 per student) to schools for teacher technology training in the classroom.

Statewide Education Technology Services—$2.2 Million

  • Supports four statewide technology efforts in areas of professional development, learning resources, and coordinating discounts.

Total—$206.6 Million

Proposed $20 Million for High-Tech Highs

The budget provides a one-time appropriation of $20 million in Proposition 98 funds as "seed" money to foster ten new high-tech high schools. Although characterized as a one-time expenditure, the proposed appropriation effectively would commit the state to an ongoing expenditure of the $20 million for a K-14 education purpose beginning in 2002-03 due to the requirements of Proposition 98. Under the proposal, the Office of the Secretary for Education (OSE) would award $2 million grants on a competitive basis to ten schools. According to OSE, this proposal would help address the shortage of people with engineering and technology skills and develop "best practices" models for infusing technology into education. The administration intends to propose legislation to enact this program, but had not provided draft bill language to the Legislature at the time this analysis was written.

Grant recipients could use the state funds for various purposes related to starting a high-tech high such as planning, facilities, equipment, salaries, and leveraging other funds. The budget proposal assumes these schools would obtain significant additional funds from other sources to implement the high-tech high model. As we explain further below, high-tech highs incur added operating costs ranging from $1,500 to $3,000 annually per average daily attendance (ADA).

What Is a High-Tech High? A high-tech high is a high school that 
(1) integrates technology intensively throughout the curriculum; and
(2) emphasizes math, science, and engineering. Typical attributes of high-tech highs are summarized in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Attributes of High-Tech Highs

U Technology is integrated intensively into the curriculum.

U Schools have fewer students than average high school (about 200 students).

U "Magnet" schools to which students apply for admission and need to meet certain specified criteria.

U Low student-to-computer and student-to-teacher ratios.

U Emphasis on math, science, and preparation for careers in technology.

U Focus on project-oriented learning. Students pursue assignments as they would at a job. They research topics, meet with people, analyze issues, and write and present findings.

U Strong connection to business community.

U Additional graduation requirements such as internship and community college classes.

Current High-Tech Highs. Two high-tech highs opened in California within the last five years—a high school in Napa (1996) and a charter high school in San Diego (2000). Each is a small public high school of about 200 students emphasizing technology, project-oriented learning, collaboration, and creating business partnerships to facilitate career-building experiences. These schools receive the normal complement of funding for a high school through their districts, but raise additional funds from the federal government and the private sector to cover the added costs associated with running a high-tech high. These added costs arise from lower student-to-computer and student-to-teacher ratios, frequent technology upgrades, specialized software programs, enhanced network capacity, and full-time technology staff. According to officials at the two schools, such costs amount to between $1,500 to $3,000 per ADA annually. This represents up to one-third of their total funding per ADA.

High-Tech High Results Unclear. No formal studies have been conducted to investigate how student achievement has been affected by establishment of the existing high-tech highs in California. What data are available from these schools show higher test scores for their students compared to other high school students in the district, state, and nation. These data, however, do not indicate whether there is any connection between the test scores and the high-tech high approach. Indeed, the high test scores could simply reflect who is admitted to the schools. At the time this analysis was written, the administration had not provided any studies showing the effectiveness of this approach at these or other schools.

Concerns With the Budget Proposal

We recommend that the Legislature redirect $20 million from the high-tech highs proposal to other legislative priorities because (1) schools can use existing education technology funds to create high-tech highs, (2) the budget proposal would serve relatively few students at a high cost, and (3) a case for state involvement has not been made. (Delete Item 0650-116-0001.)

We have several concerns with this proposal which we outline below.

Lacks Critical Detail. The administration has provided little information to the Legislature about this proposal. At the time of this analysis, OSE had not provided bill language or specific information on such basic matters as:

Duplicates Existing Funding. The proposed $20 million for high-tech highs is duplicative of some of the existing education technology programs shown in Figure 1. In particular, the federal Literacy Challenge Grants program provides California schools with $49 million annually that could be accessed for high-tech high purposes. Moreover, this program includes a strikingly similar—though smaller scale—educational approach called Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) grants that will be implemented at ten sites across California in the fall of 2001 (see gray box for details).

In addition, districts and schools could use their share of the $600 million in one-time block grants and education technology grants from the 2000-01 Budget Act (available in 2001) to implement the high-tech high model if they so choose.

No Need for State Involvement. As mentioned above, the existing high-tech highs receive sizable support from the private sector and the federal government, making additional state funding unnecessary. The two schools have strong partnerships with the business community. They receive equipment, services, and funding from private sources that support up to 50 percent of their operating expenses. Both schools access several federal grants as well. In addition, a private foundation recently donated $11.3 million to these schools to foster 20 new high-tech highs throughout the nation—most of which will be in California according to school officials. Given the presence of all these sources, there appears to be no pressing need for additional state involvement or funds.

Questionable Cost-Effectiveness and Priority. As mentioned above, high-tech highs by their nature incur extraordinary start-up and annual operating costs. Moreover, the characteristic attributes and operating costs of high-tech highs force them to be relatively small. Assuming that the ten schools to be established under the budget proposal would be of similar size to the existing high-tech highs—about 200 students each—the budget proposal would serve about 2,000 students at a start-up cost to the state of approximately $10,000 per student. Through the Digital High School Program, the state already has made virtually all high schools in California "digital"—at an ongoing cost of $76 million per year. The high-tech high proposal provides an enhanced level of technology for a tiny fraction of the state's high school students, without any demonstration of enhanced educational outcomes, and at a high per-pupil cost. (As noted above, the budget proposal does not satisfactorily address how the high ongoing operating costs of the ten schools would be met.)

What Are the Federal EAST Grants?

  • The Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Grants Program is a national educational initiative that uses technology as a tool to promote innovative project-oriented learning, critical thinking skills, and academic excellence for grades 9 through 12. Each grant serves about 20 students to 50 students.

  • The program requires teacher training in technology, multimedia computers, Internet connection in every classroom, and the integration of effective software and online learning resources.

  • Schools form partnerships with higher education institutions and businesses to prepare students for life after high school.

  • Funding is through a competitive matching grant process in which schools receive up to $125,000 per year for two years and must provide matching funds of $25,000 per year of the grant program.

  • The State Department of Education has selected ten high schools spread throughout the state to be EAST demonstration sites. Implementation will begin in the fall 2001.

Given all the above, we believe the administration has not justified this proposal as being a high-priority state investment. Consequently, we recommend that the Legislature redirect $20 million from the high-tech highs proposal to other legislative priorities because (1) schools can use existing education technology funds to create high-tech highs, (2) the budget proposal would serve relatively few students at a high cost, and
(3) a case for state involvement has not been made.

Return to Education Table of Contents, 2001-02 Budget Analysis