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A proposal to create a statewide grant program for classroom technology passed in the Utah House on Thursday and is headed for the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Herriman Republican Rep. John Knotwell, would make funding available for every school district and charter school in the state, pending approval of technology plans by the state school board.

Knotwell said those plans would reflect the needs of local educators, rather than a top-down mandate from state leaders.

"This is the hard way," he said. "But it is the Utah way."

Some lawmakers questioned the need to earmark education funds for technology, as opposed to providing schools with unrestricted funding.

Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said that using the money from Knotwell's bill to increase per-student funding would allow schools to invest in technology if they chose, or other classroom necessities.

"I believe that at the local level they need to be making decisions that are wise for classrooms," Fawson said.

The bill calls for $100 million, but the most recent budget negotiations suggest the grant program will be given $25 million if approved by lawmakers.

Mapleton Republican Rep. Francis Gibson said that independent of the bill's final price tag, the state needs to signal its intent to invest in 21st century learning.

"We will scale this and pay for it as we can afford it," he said. "But the decision to go down this road needs to be made today."

He said Utah's children are growing up surrounded by technology in every place but their school classroom.

"It would be like going to work and driving a car," Gibson said, "and when you get there, here's a mule and a plow."

A recent technology survey by the Utah Education and Telehealth Network, or UETN, found that Utah's schools average six computing devices for every 10 students, and 11 percent of schools have a device for every student.

The UETN survey also found infrastructure to be lacking in the state, with 61 percent of schools using wireless hardware that is at least three years old, and 79 percent of schools having fewer wireless Internet connection points than instructional spaces.

Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, said the state's technology needs are too great to be addressed in a single year. But he said Knotwell's bill would start the process of modernizing Utah's schools.

"It's going to transform education and that's what we need in this day and age," Cutler said.

The House voted 44-28 in favor of the bill.

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