Digital Education Equity Program Reintroduced in California Legislature

Published On: January 27, 2022

California public school districts officially have another shot at equal access to professional development for teachers and technical assistance that will help schools effectively use their technology — and schools could cost-effectively plan for and implement current and emerging educational technology.

“Educational technology is essential for teaching and learning in the Digital Age,” Sen. Josh Becker, D-Peninsula, told The GovReport. “And California educators must have equitable access to the professional development and technical assistance that make effective use of this technology possible.”

State funding for such support ended when California adopted the Local Control Funding Formula about eight years ago, according to a press release. So on January 25, 2022, Becker introduced SB 876 to create the statewide the Digital Education Equity Program (DEEP), which the state Department of Education and County Offices of Education are slated to plan and implement.

In fact, SB 876 reintroduces measures Becker proposed in a 2021 bill, SB 767, that was passed by the Senate but didn’t advance in the Assembly.

“I am raising this issue again in SB 876 because educational technology is essential for our school districts in the Digital Age, and California educators must have equitable access to the professional development and technical assistance that make effective use of this technology possible,” he said. “This need is not going away.”

While substantively there is no difference between the 2021 bill and this year’s SB 876, Becker noted that an important change exists as far as implementation — while SB 767 proposed funding of regional consortia among the 58 County Offices of Education (COEs), SB 876 would instead make grants available to each of the 58 COEs. A stipulation also exists that one COE could form a consortium with one or more COEs in applying for a grant.

“One example of that,” he added, “would be a highly rural County Office of Education partnering with a less rural COE.”

A key component of the 2021 bill — the State Digital Equity Plan — remains a key component of SB 876, which, as introduced, would be funded in the annual Budget Act of 2022. “If that is successful,” Becker said, “the funding would be part of the State Education Budget”

And this funding will help the Department of Education develop and implement the State Digital Equity Plan, which will focus on “how best to meet locally defined educational needs that can be effectively addressed with the use of technology,” the bill states, and will reflect “the overall needs and priorities related to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the access and use of technology to support teaching and learning in California schools.”

Once that plan is approved, Becker said the Department of Education (CDE) will establish the Office of Educational Technology and Digital Equity to support DEEP’s planning and implementation.

“They will be tasked to provide planning, policies, guidelines, and support to implement DEEP,” he said. “Moreover, the bill tasks and funds COEs to collaborate with CDE to equitably deliver DEEP services to California school districts.”

Reflecting how far his bill progressed last year, Becker said he’s positive going forward.

“I am optimistic about my chances for it to reach the Assembly once again,” he said, “and this year, advance.”

About the Author: Jessica Mulholland

Jessica Mulholland is a managing editor at the California Chamber of Commerce, where she leads production of and writes for employment law-related newsletters, co-edits the California Labor Law Digest and the HRCalifornia website, and edits the HR Quick Guide for California Employers, among other things. Mulholland has a B.A. in journalism from California State University, Chico, and a Master of Legal Studies from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.