While private sector support of youth technology programs is a major element of overall funding, the federal government is also a major player.
Since the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which rewrote 60-year-old rules governing the running of the telecommunications industry, the so-called federal E-rate program has provided over $3 billion to help connect schools and libraries to the Internet. The Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have run their own, more closely targeted programs for several years. And the Department of Commerce, through its Technology Opportunities Program (TOP), has provided over $15 million a year in matching grants since 1994 to prod private-sector investment and community commitment to bridge the digital divide between the poor and middle class.
However, community and out-of-school youth programs have mostly fallen through the government funding cracks. President Clinton’s Fiscal Year 2001 budget does propose a 10-year, $2 billion program of tax incentives to encourage private-sector high-tech activities in underserved communities, along with $380 million for new and current federal initiatives to help form public-private tech partnerships.
The latter would include $150 million for training new teachers (but not youth workers) to use technology effectively, $100 million to create 1,000 Community Technology centers in low-income and urban and rural neighborhoods, and $50 million for a pilot program to expand home access to computers and the Internet for low-income families.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) recently introduced the Kids 2000 Act, which would spend $120 million over six years to make every Boys & Girls Club a “technology learning center.” Biden’s office says the bill is intended to increase computer access for low-income youth and to reduce juvenile crime by boosting youth programs during after-school hours.
How far these spending proposals will get is debatable, particularly given that 2000 is a presidential election year. However, technology funding programs have generally garnered broad bipartisan support in Congress.