WASHINGTON – Her friends in the Harford County Boys and Girls Clubs says she’s in the computer lab all the time, typing away. Even the unit director of the Bel Air office calls her one of the lab’s “primary users,” using it for everything from homework to poetry.
But typing is about all that Amanda Campbell, 14, can do — the club does not have Internet access.
“It hasn’t been installed yet,” she said. “If we have to do research, it makes things harder.”
So Amanda joined 20 members of the Harford County Boys and Girls Clubs in a visit Tuesday to the Capitol to applaud Senate passage of a bill that would funnel up to $120 million dollars into technology programs at Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
The youth club funding, aimed at filling high-tech job openings with “home-grown” young people, was added to a larger bill aimed at making it easier for American businesses to get high-tech workers from overseas.
The “American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act” passed the Senate on a 96-1 vote Tuesday, but it could face a challenge in the House. Opponents argue that it might hurt American workers and that other, less-skilled immigrants are being denied equal treatment.
The lone vote against the bill, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., said through a spokesman that he voted against the measure because there was not enough time for debate on the bill and because it didn’t allot enough training for American workers in the technology sector.
“We keep losing jobs (abroad) but we don’t have training for the people that are here,” said Andy Davis, Hollings’ spokesman.
Supporters of the bill, however, insist S-2045 will help the country both now and in the future.
One of the original sponsors of the bill, Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., said foreign workers would help keep companies in America now by plugging holes in their emplooyment ranks. He also said it would help prepare America for the future by investing money in the Boys and Girls Clubs and by helping bridge the “digital divide” between economic classes.
A spokesman for Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who pushed the Boys and Girls Clubs amendment, said the nonprofit was chosen for two reasons: It is in every state and it already has enough technology that increased funding will let it keep pace with advances, rather than having to start from scratch.
The organization, which looks after more than 3 million youths, will use the money for technology equipment, tutors and training, said Robbie Callaway, senior vice president for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He said the group also hopes to use the increased funding to leverage an additional $180 million from private sources.
Donald W. Mathis, the executive director of Harford County’s Boys and Girls Clubs, said he was excited about the possibilities that increased tech funding would bring.
“If you can get an underachiever to do computer stuff he becomes a computer worker instead of a delinquent,” he said. “You can’t waste one kid.”
One kid who could benefit if the bill becomes law is Amanda. Although she hasn’t decided yet whether she wants to study law or computers, she said she knows what she would do if her club installed the Internet.
“I would go to the TeenInk site,” she said, to view some of the poetry she has had published.