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Obama Announces Nearly $3 Billion in Education Technology Commitments

This story has been updated to reflect new information.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced nearly $3 billion in commitments from the Federal Communications Commission and several private technology companies that aim to “close the technology gap in our schools.”

During the announcement at a middle school in Maryland, Obama said the commitments will help “put the world and outer space at every child’s fingertips, whether they live in a big city or a quiet suburb or rural America.”

In addition to the FCC’s $2 billion commitment to serve as a down payment for providing high-speed broadband Internet access to 15, 000 schools, the Department of Agriculture will provide more than $10 million in distance-learning grants for rural schools, according to documents provided by the White House.

“My country invested in me … and now I want America to invest in you, ” Obama said. “Because in the faces of these students, these are future doctors and lawyers and engineers, scientists, business leaders. We don’t know what kinds of products, services, good work any of these students may do. But I’m betting on them. And all of us have to bet on them.”

“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools, ” he later added.

[: Technology Trends for Teachers to Try in 2014]

Among the donations is a contribution of products from Microsoft, which the company said equate to a $1 billion investment. The software company pledged to significantly discount several of its digital devices for all public K-12 schools, as well as offer more than 12 million copies of Microsoft Office for free to students at qualifying low-income schools.

“With new competitive pricing coupled with the programs and services we’ll provide, schools can’t afford to not put these technology tools in the hands of their students, ” Margo Day, vice president of U.S. education for Microsoft, said in a blog post. “I can’t stress enough, education is the single most important investment we can make in our future, and technology is the tool for the greatest return. Technology has the power to enhance the work of our educators and create a more immersive and engaging learning experience for students.”

And because “no technology will be as great as a good teacher, ” Obama said some commitments also will provide professional development for teachers to ensure they know how to properly use the technology in their classrooms.

Part of a pledge by Verizon includes increased professional development opportunities for teachers, building off current efforts in 24 underserved schools, says Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation.

“One key result we found from training teachers on mobile technology in the classroom is that their students learn better problem-solving skills, ” she tells U.S. News. in a statement. “These skills are essential for 21st-century education and an ability to compete internationally.”

The original story was posted at 6 a.m.

President Barack Obama is expected to announce more than $2 billion in new commitments to outfit thousands of American schools with access to high-speed broadband and wireless access, as well as other educational technologies.

During an event at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Md., Tuesday, Obama will announce a $2 billion commitment from the Federal Communications Commission, and more than $750 million in pledges from private companies, according to White House officials. The investments will support Obama’s promise to provide access to 15, 000 schools over the next two years, “without adding a dime to the deficit” - a plan he referenced in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday. The plan is part of a larger goal Obama announced last year to connect 99 percent of students to broadband and wireless within five years.

[: Obama Reaffirms Old Education Promises in State of the Union Address]

“The U.S. is falling behind many of our international competitors, like South Korea and Singapore, ” said Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council, in a call with reporters Monday. “They’re moving forward with aggressive investments in digital learning and we have a real sense of urgency to make sure our students are getting the very best, with respect to connectivity and technology, so that we retain a competitive edge in the global economy to make sure we enrich learning for all of our students.”

But currently fewer than 30 percent of schools in America have the broadband access they need, Munoz said.

“We’re not maximizing what we can get done. Sometimes bandwidth is so limited that teachers in multiple classrooms can’t stream videos at the same time, ” Munoz said. “While most schools are connected…[it is often] a far cry from what students need in order to really use digital learning.”

Following Obama’s State of the Union address, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told U.S. News expanding such technology to students across the country “could be the great equalizer.”

[: Government Report Calls for More Vigilant Reporting of School Sexual Abuse]

“To be able to take a significant step in this direction is fantastic, ” Duncan says. “The FCC has worked very hard to free up resources to connect more schools across the country to bridge this digital divide.”

Coming from the private sector, companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Verizon have made commitments totaling more than $750 million to provide free and discounted digital education resources to schools across the country, the president will say.

Apple, for example, will be pledging $100 million worth of iPads, math books and other products to disadvantaged schools. AT&T will spend $100 million to provide middle school students with free internet connectivity on education devices for three years. And Sprint is also committing to offer free wireless for up to 50, 000 low-income high school students for the next four years.

Both the Sprint and AT&T commitments “recognize their understanding that for young people who are from lower income or disadvantaged background to really cross the digital divide, they need to have that connectivity not just at the school, but at their home, ” said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, in the call with reporters.

[: How Virtual Games Can Help Struggling Students Learn]

Likewise, Verizon will invest up to $100 million in cash and in-kind contributions during the next three years to accelerate professional development for teachers to help increase student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math.

"If you work alongside teachers and show them exactly how to integrate technology into the classroom in a consistent and meaningful manner with professional development, the results can be very profound, " said Rose Stuckey Kirk, vice president-global corporate citizenship and president of the Verizon Foundation, in a statement. "In our work in this area, we find that this committed approach is critical. That's why we are expanding our work to have an even greater impact in the education arena."

Interesting facts:

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