"A lot of students don't have computers at home and we need to give them that opportunity [at school] so they know how to translate that into their lives and into the workplace," Heap said.
Funds for the state's early-1990s Education Technology Initiative had long since languished before Utah's lawmakers last month awarded $50 million for public schools to buy more computers and learning software. Augmenting school technology funding was a priority for the Utah Board of Education and Republican Sen. Howard Stephenson, co-chairman of the Legislature's Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
"We're very excited about what the Legislature did in the last session," said Ray Timothy, deputy state schools superintendent. "That will go a long way to help increase the access in our classrooms."
Utah and 13 other states earned a "C" in the 10th annual "Technology Counts" report prepared by the Research Center at Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes Education Week. The state also earned a "C" last year, but many of the grading criteria have changed.
This year, Utah scored better than Colorado and Nevada, but worse than its three other neighbors. Idaho topped the group with a high ''B.''
The nation's only ''A'' went to Georgia.
The analysis measured states on access and use of technology in schools, as well as capacity to use technology. Utah earned an ''A'' for ''use of technology'' because it has a virtual high school, offers computer-based assessments, includes technology curriculum standards and is one of only four states to actually test students on those standards.
The state's failing grade came in the "capacity to use technology" department because Utah doesn't include enough technology in standards or licensing requirements for teachers and administrators. Only a handful of states have adopted such licensing requirements.
Utah earned a "D+" for "access to technology" because less than 30 percent of students have computers in their classrooms. Also, Utah has more students per instructional computer and high-speed Internet connection than any other state in the nation. Utah skirted last year's "F" because 85 percent of students have access to a computer lab.
''The 'D+' in access was not a surprise,'' said Timothy of the Utah Office of Education. "At one point, we had the [Education Technology Initiative] funding in our state and Utah was No. 1, but we have slipped definitely."
Timothy said the slide started during the economic downturn and continued when the technology initiative funding formula changed. But federally funded pilot projects in low-income schools seem to be working - Utah's "high poverty" and "high minority" schools reflected student-computer ratios closer to the national average.
"We're doing a pretty good job of placing the technology where we need to have it," Timothy said.
* NICOLE STRICKER can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8999.