DALLAS — The Texas Education Agency recently formed a task force to handle the work set to come through its offices as a result of the federal stimulus program.

Education commissioner Robert Scott named Jerel Booker to chair the Task Force on Federal Stimulus and Stabilization. Scott anticipates as much as $6 billion in federal funding will find its way to Texas’ 1,228 school districts and charter school systems through the legislation passed by Congress last month.

“We face large immediate tasks — updating our curriculum standards, preparing students for postsecondary success, and overseeing the expedited but appropriate spending of billions of dollars of new federal funds,” Scott said in a release.

The 22-member task force includes managers of numerous TEA departments and divisions. The executive committee includes Booker, Gene Lenz, deputy associate commissioner for special programs, and Nora Hancock, associate commissioner for planning, grants, and evaluations. Susan Hunter Smith will serve as counsel to the executive committee.

Scott also named Anita Givens associate commissioner of standards and programs to oversee the curriculum, textbooks, special programs and No Child Left Behind activities of the agency.

While holding the post in an interim capacity since last fall, Givens has led efforts to update science, career, and technical education curriculum standards, according to the TEA.

She was also tapped to serve on the new stimulus task force and has been with the agency for 18 years, including stints as deputy associate commissioner for standards and alignment and senior director of instructional materials and educational technology.

Givens said much of the stimulus money set to flow through the TEA will fund the agency’s Title I program and IDEA, or individuals with disabilities education act, program.

“There will be a significant increase in funds for eligible Title I programs, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education,” Givens said. “And we expect to see an acceleration of the IDEA programs currently being funding with federal dollars.”

Under its Title I plan, the TEA channels federal money to schools with high numbers or percentages of economically disadvantaged children. The program helps 12.5 million students. The vast majority are in preschool through sixth grade, according to the TEA

Givens said the stimulus task force has been meeting weekly since President Obama first outlined his plans for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  soon after his inauguration in January.

“We’ve already begun identifying particular needs in anticipation of the money beginning to roll out and are excited about the opportunity to use these dollars as effectively as possible,” she said. “We look forward to continuing to provide Texas students with the best possible education.”

She has been working to update the educational technology of the state since the mid-1980s and said Texas has a long-range plan to upgrade all school technology by 2020.

“Improving technology in our classrooms is of high priority as teachers and students are now using technology for all facets of education,” Givens said. “We use online professional development for teachers, some students submit course material through secure Web sites, which parents can also use to receive notes from teachers and track what their children are doing … what homework is being turned in … what the students’ test grades are.”

Numerous Texas school districts that put bond packages before voters in November outlined needs ranging from technology upgrades to rehabilitating aging infrastructure. Some facilities aren’t even wired for air conditioning, much less computer systems.

“Back in the ’90s when we started connecting schools to the Internet, we found many lack sufficient electricity systems needed to support the technology,” Givens said.  

 

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