by Gary Beach

E-Learning Needs Government Support

Feb 15, 20013 mins
IT Leadership

AS I PUMP GASOLINE on a cold blustery evening in Massachusetts, I continue to be steaming mad about the events of the day in Washington, D.C., where I testified before a bipartisan congressional commission focused on setting our nation’s e-learning agenda for the coming years.

Called the Web Based Education Commission, the group invited America’s leading businesses, education institutions and nonprofits to share their ideas on the road ahead. Several hundred responded. Only six were actual for-profit businesses. And every one of those were technology companies hoping to sell more tech toys to our nation’s schools.

When my turn came to testify, I eschewed my written remarks and went on a soliloquy on how disappointing it was that so few businesses submitted testimony. I also told former Sen. Kerrey of Nebraska that I would pay for admission to a future hearing to listen to the chief executive officers of large, nontechnology companies testify.

The chieftains of American businesses are quick to critique how America’s K-through-higher-education public school system is not producing enough workers with the technical skills needed in the 21st century workplace. But when action and leadership are called for, our nation’s business leaders are no-shows.

Retooling public education is a systemic problem calling for systemic solutions. I am convinced corporate America’s leaders care more about parochial, in-my-affluent-ZIP-code microefforts that make for great photo ops in corporate annual reports than they do about jumping in and making things better nationally.

Those who did testify that day told story after story of how pilot technology programs in their schools were producing excellent results. The only downside? Not enough money to roll them out districtwide.

So, as I stood at that gas pump staring at the $1.50 price on a gallon of gas, the following idea struck me. How much of that $1.50 in Massachusetts was actually a tax? Where did that money go?

I researched it and discovered that in Massachusetts 21 cents on every gallon goes to the federal Highway Trust Fund, a program instituted by the Highway Revenue Act of 1956 to fund the construction of the interstate highway system.

No one likes a tax, but the alternative?a future tech- illiterate workforce?is not a pleasant option either.

I would like the 107th Congress to consider this idea. Apply a one-half of 1 percent excise tax on the sales of technology products and services over $1,000. This approach ensures low-income, first-time buyers would be exempt. Companies using technology the most, companies that need a tech-trained workforce, would pay the most.

IDC reports that American businesses spend about $400 billion a year on technology products and services. The $2 billion raised annually by this idea would go to fund the National Education Technology Trust Fund. The fund would be managed by a bipartisan congressional committee. Each year every penny collected would be dispersed to the 50 states to foster quicker adoption of technology in our education process.

Left to their own, American businesses will never act.