Texas axes education tech unit

The Texas Education Agency's educational technology division, a national leader in technology planning and programs for schools, has been eliminated in a budget-driven overhaul of the TEA.

Some 200 TEA staff lost their jobs as part of the consolidation. The 16-member technology division was reduced to just five workers, who were then dispersed among the remaining parts of the downsized agency.

The TEA has been faced with cutting $2.8 billion out of its $30 billion budget during the 2004-2005 biennium. In its initial stab at the cuts, the agency recommended ditching only 10 jobs, with much of the proposed funding then to come out of such things as textbook purchases, reduced teacher training and a cut in dropout-prevention programs.

However, that raised Texas lawmakers' ire because they objected to the drastic effect the proposals would have on children in the classroom and told the TEA to come up with other ways of cutting its budget.

An agency spokesperson claimed the final cuts better fit agency leadership's view that educational technology should be integrated with what the TEA does overall, rather than be the responsibility of a separate organization.

However, Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, the TEA's communications director, said the division's disappearance doesn't mean all the programs it initiated will also disappear. It launched several online programs, such as a Web site that math teachers could use to assess their lessons' value by comparing them with the best from around the state. Officials hope those programs will be continued, she said.

One possible casualty is the Texas School Telecommunications Access Resource (T-STAR) network, which provided TV communications and videoconferencing to school districts, regional education centers and the TEA itself. The staff who supported T-STAR has already been laid off.

"We're looking into the possibility of an outside group taking over those operations, and we think there's a good chance that will happen," Ratcliffe said. "We'd help facilitate things as much as possible, but that outside group would provide the staff to run T-STAR."

The TEA reorganization is now more or less complete, she said, and depending on where the final budget figures end up, funds could be found to outsource other technology programs.

Brian Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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