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Utah Schools Lag in Computer Access

Utah Schools Lag in Computer Access

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Despite a more than $21 million allocation for classroom technology last year, Utah schools ranked dead last in classroom access to computers in a national report released Thursday.

The Education Week Research Center determined Utah's ratio of students to computers was nearly two times worse than the national average -- 14.3 pupils in the Beehive State for every computer compared with 7.3 students for each machine nationally.

Utah also ranked poorly in providing enough in-class computers with Internet access, enrolling 13.9 students for each computer compared with eight students per computer nationally.

The annual report tracks more than 50 indicators of school technology, including computer-based testing and the use of virtual education and proficiency standards for teachers and administrators.

But before Utah parents get upset, they need to understand what's behind those numbers, said Rick Gaisford, education technology expert for the State Office of Education.

"What you don't see when you walk into the average Utah classroom is multiple computers, but you will find a computer lab in every school," Gaisford said. "That's not what we'd like, but it's where we are. We just don't have the funding to do it."

The situation isn't ideal, but it also doesn't mean students are losing ground on other states, he said.

Gaisford said all Utah schools are wired for the Internet, every classroom has computer access and state standards are in place for computer proficiency.

Though Utah didn't have as much equipment per-pupil as others, the state did get high marks for the way that technology is used.

However, Erin Fox, who helped edit the report, said the state took a hit because it doesn't require that teachers and administrators demonstrate a benchmark level of computer proficiency to be certified.

"You wonder if students could be doing better if they had more access or if teachers were better prepared," she said.

Like most states, Utah's effort to equip students with the hardware and software they need is bound up in budget battles on Capitol Hill.

At $21 million for the 2005 fiscal year, the state was among the top-third in funding nationwide. New York spent the most -- more than $196 million. Mississippi ranked last, spending just $318,000.

Still, Utah's funding is slipping a bit. During the recent legislative session, state lawmakers budgeted $2.5 million less for technology for the next fiscal year.

Nationally, technology funding is also at risk, Fox said, with the White House recommending $500 million in technology fund cuts. Utah gets $3 million of that each year, Gaisford said.

That recommendation may be tied with national data that shows "a decade of federal investments have shown too little impact on academic achievement," said Ken Bushweller, a project editor on the report.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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