Education IT funding increases

The Education Department has planned an increase in its fiscal 2004 information technology budget, as the department aims to modernize student aid programs and improve its financial management systems.

Of the department's proposed $53.1 billion, $427 million is earmarked for IT — up $17 million from the proposed spending for 2003.

A year after the No Child Left Behind Act was signed, states and school systems are making changes to meet new guidelines. With that comes strengthening accountability and data assessment systems.

The 2004 budget proposal includes funding to modernize student aid programs by developing an integrated, user-friendly system that allows simplified access by students, schools and lenders. The department wants to streamline application processing to improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

Included in this goal is updating the Web portals that department customers use to access student aid information and conduct business.

The Education budget request also includes $10 million to continue the performance-based data management initiative launched in 2003. The funds, holding steady from last year's request, will focus on elementary and secondary education program management and reporting student achievement. The initiative supports Internet-based collection of data about student achievement, reduces reporting burdens on states and school districts, and helps identify performance trends.

Other IT items in the Education budget include:

* $13.9 million for integrated system support to improve the department's financial, procurement and grant management payment functions.

* $12.4 million — nearly double what was requested in 2003 — for the Financial Management Support System. The system includes functions for budget execution, funds control, and internal and external reporting.

* $61.3 million for the Virtual Data Center, which provides a single computing environment for federal student aid systems that support the financial aid process.

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