WASHINGTON (May 7, 1997) -- A ruling by the Federal Communications Commission today providing deep discounts for telecommunications services to schools and libraries is the answer to a prayer -- and many hours of negotiation -- according to two national Catholic educational leaders.
Today's ruling comes in response to a provision of last year's landmark legislation overhauling the nation's communications laws. The FCC's implementation of the so-called Snowe- Rockefeller amendment to the 1996 Telecommunications Act will allow all school children fair and affordable access to advanced telecommunications services.
"The FCC's decision places America's school children in the vanguard to our digital future, which is exactly where they should be," said Msgr. Thomas McDade, Secretary for Education at the U.S. Catholic Conference. "The great foresight of the legislation and of the FCC ruling is that they prepare today's children -- regardless of whether they are educated in public or private schools -- for the jobs of the future."
A report by the Information Technology Association of America warns that one out of every ten jobs requiring information technology skills is going unfilled due to a shortage of qualified workers. By the year 2000, six of every ten jobs in the United States will require computer skills currently possessed by only 22 percent of the labor force.
Msgr. McDade said that Catholic schools are excluded from most local and state funded initiatives for the purchase of technology hardware and are significantly disadvantaged at the onset. Discounted services will provide the assistance necessary to facilitate effective long-range technology planning and implementation.
"Catholic schools in the United States educate 2.6 million children every day, and yet limited resources have forced us to do so on the 'have not' side of a growing digital divide," concurred Len DeFiore, President of the National Catholic Educational Association. "The current technology capabilities in the private school sector are approximately half that of the public schools, but now we have the chance to close that divide."
The FCC's decision allows schools the local flexibility to choose from the most basic to the most advanced technology services available commercially as appropriate to their needs and goals. To make those services affordable, the Act provides for a sliding scale of discounts, ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent, with the greatest discounts going to schools with the largest number of students from low-income families.
Both Msgr. McDade and Dr. DeFiore praised the efforts of EdLiNC, a large coalition of education and library interests which first worked for passage of the amendment authored by Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and has since worked to achieve the concrete provisions of today's FCC announcement.
"The original bipartisan nature of the amendment has been clearly reflected in the ongoing cooperation of such a diverse coalition of public and private school and library organizations," said Dr. DeFiore. "Together we've made great strides for all of America's children, and we look forward to continuing this cooperation until we've achieved our ultimate goal of having every classroom on line."
NCEA is the largest private professional education association in the world, representing 200,000 educators who serve students at all levels of Catholic education. USCC is the national public policy organization of the Catholic Bishops of the United States.