- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

President Obama‘s stimulus plan includes more than $150 billion in new federal money for education, with “infrastructure projects” like school modernization and repair, programs to make schools more energy efficient, and technology infrastructure upgrades being put forth as the most productive use of the money. So, with the prospect of an extra billion dollars in the budget that the stimulus plan dictates must be spent right away, where will it do the most good?

Few projects can offer the rewards to taxpayers like an investment in information infrastructure. The benefits of rebuilding our education system’s information infrastructure are clear. For many years, the private sector has implemented technology that enables organizations with vast operations to function on a single information platform. This platform has become the operational backbone of most leading corporations and holds great promise for the education system.

In private enterprise, information infrastructures act as a communications backbone that allows distinct departments such as payroll, human resources, purchasing and inventory to seamlessly share information, operate in real time, drastically cut operating costs and manage resources more effectively. Building similar systems in the education community would represent a real investment in education, with continuing benefits to state and local governments that would extend long after the recovery-oriented flurry of stimulus spending comes to an end.

Modern information infrastructures make it easier to implement and expand other programs so that the education initiatives that President Obama supports, like computers for classrooms and broadband access, will realize their full usefulness and potential.

For example, for years, politicians and educators have debated the importance of technology in education. President Clinton put forward a bold vision of outfitting every classroom with a computer, an idea President Obama has expanded to include high-speed Internet access. Though few would argue with the idea that children must grow up to be proficient with such technology, the overall academic success of such programs has been limited, and largely achieved by private institutions and schools.

However, with the benefit of a modern information infrastructure, entire departments throughout a school can be updated simultaneously from a central location with the latest software, programs, technologies and information. This allows for consolidated, streamlined future spending on new technologies, something especially important for school districts and universities.

Across the nation universities and some K-12 state school districts, like Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Calhoun County Public Schools, have begun to implement information infrastructure projects of their own. Unfortunately, the upfront costs of these programs can be tough to take on in an environment of declining tax revenues and diminishing state support.

With a small portion of the stimulus spending, these improvements can be brought to an entire nation no matter the district’s demographics. The financial assistance in bringing our schools’ information infrastructures up-to-date will also create local jobs for technology professionals in the states that receive stimulus funding. Job creation combining the education and technology fields is one of the most promising, sustainable additions as both continue to evolve.

President Obama was quoted a year ago in Springfield, Ill., “Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let’s set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed.”

Our education system needs more than a material renovation. According to Mr. Obama’s spring campaign, we must push for a technological renovation as well.

Investing in information infrastructures is a proven plan for growth and holds the greatest promise for long-term, measurable improvement in America’s schools. It is an investment that will help schools through the current economic challenges and lay a foundation for building our next generation.

Ed Bouryng is the founder and president of Metaformers, Inc.

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