This broadband leader has always had a passion for policy – especially when it came to funding for technology in schools. As a former teacher, tech coordinator, and chief technology officer, Jennifer Bergland now leads advocacy efforts as the Director of Governmental Relations at Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA). Here’s more about her journey to connect all Texas students to digital learning opportunities, and her top tips to help educators invest in technology funding to improve student engagement.
What experiences made you passionate about educational technology?
- In the early 1980s, I taught in Mustang High School, Oklahoma – a very small rural community back then. I was teaching several social studies courses, including one called International Problems. One of the students came into class and wanted to play a cool “nuclear war” game that he had played in the computer lab. He taught me how to use it, and we brought the class in to play. The kids had so much fun and were totally engaged – and that hooked me right there.
- Then, I moved to Conroe ISD in the Woodlands and worked in the middle school. I got an Apple IIe computer and we had free open source software programs for our kids. Even though I only had one computer in the classroom, I could design activities around that computer. I could see the kids that I couldn’t normally get involved lit up when they were given responsibility and moved in front of the computer.
- Later, when I taught 8th grade U.S. History, I became good friends with the computer literacy teacher who taught Logo (early computer programming). We had a lot of the same kids, but I had a hard time motivating them in my classroom, while every single kid in her class was engaged in what they were doing. That helped me see that when you let kids create something, there could be a big difference in engagement.
The Texas State Matching Fund ($25M) has helped connect over 460 school districts to fiber, and TCEA’s work on it was key to passing the budget. What were the most important actions you took when advocating for this funding?
- We started early – it didn’t just happen. After we held a “Fiber Bootcamp” with Joe Fredosso and a lawyer from the FCC, we went down to the capitol and held a similar training for legislative staffers. They weren’t familiar with E-rate because it wasn’t a state program, so we needed to introduce the program before talking about state match.
- Then, while EducationSuperHighway worked to brief the Governor’s Office on state match, we worked to brief the Senate Education and Appropriation Committee members.
- We had done so much prior education with key staffers and members of the Senate Education Committee that it was a non-issue when it came time to vote on the funding. My only regret was that it was a one session deal. I would have liked to keep it going as long as the FCC will give states the extra 10% match.
Do you have any advocacy advice for CIOs, technology leaders, and educators trying to increase funding for technology in schools?
I have always firmly believed that information is power. For example, when No Child Left Behind came out, there was a stream of money (Title II, Part D) for technology. The district tried to tell me that was the only pot of money available for technology. I downloaded the bill and added a sticky next to every place where it said “digital” or “technology”. By the end, the bill was covered in stickies. This showed them that technology was not in a silo – it was everywhere!
The more informed a technology director or leader can be about public policy and what is going on in their state capitol (most of their effort should be focused at the state level), the better. It’s about understanding who is telling schools what to do and how to do it. Tech directors are putting themselves at a disadvantage if they do not stay in tune with policy conversations happening in their district. That’s why I try to keep TCEA members up-to-date on policy changes so that they can share that information with their district.
Remember, if you’re a technology leader in your district, you are already advocating! You try to convince teachers, curriculum specialists, etc. You can use those same sorts of skills to talk to your legislators. Begin conversations with your legislators when they are not in session — that’s when they have time to talk.
Get to know the staff members and go to the local district office. It’s all about creating relationships! Then, when they are in the heat of the battle and needed to understand whether they should vote for a bill related to educational technology, they know who to call.
Looking for new ways to find funding for technology in your school? Read our guide to state matching funds, grants, and bonds to help you cover the cost of upgrading your network.
*This interview has been edited for clarity.