Title I-- and Then Some


School districts are getting creative in finding ways to finance technology purchases, blending Title I dollars with money from numerous other funding sources.

Title I-- and Then SomeSTANDING THE ACCUSTOMED digital divide on its head, economically disadvantaged students are enjoying a richer technology experience than their middle-class counterparts. That's thanks to Title I funding, given by the federal government to schools with at least 40 percent of their student populations coming from low-income families. The recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known better as the stimulus package, brings even more good news for schools benefitting from the funds: An additional $10 billion in Title I funding has been set aside for the 2009 fiscal year.

Title I's three major objectives are to improve achievement for all students, improve staff development, and boost parental and community involvement, so technology naturally plays a large part in efforts to meet those goals. "We live in a world economy, and technology is a piece of every single day of life," says Eileen Lento, government and education strategist at Intel. "If the mandate is to provide appropriate education, you have to have technology."

But in order for technology purchases to bring the maximum benefits to education, districts must carefully consider their implementations, says Lento. "Technology gives us the opportunity to do things you couldn't do before," she says. "But whether we're talking Title I or any funding, the technology purchased needs to be pervasive and flexible, and every student needs access."

"Whether we're talking Title I or any funding, the technology purchased needs to be pervasive and flexible, and every student needs access."

For Alpine School District in Lindon, UT, making technology a part of every student's educational experience, regardless of economic status, begins with establishing a solid IT infrastructure. "We're looking to enhance our wireless network, provide more access points and more computers, and possibly do wired infrastructure replacement if we have enough money," says Matt Johnson, the district's director of technology infrastructure. The state of the network, adds Johnson, determines the applications and software the district can run. "We look at what kind of application the school wants to utilize and whether we can properly accommodate that curriculum with the current network," he says. "We always take into consideration the network and the hardware itself before we look at software."

Title I eligibility is determined by the student population of the individual schools within a district, not the district as a whole; only six out of Alpine's 68 schools qualify. The district was able to fund network upgrades for those schools using Title I funds, while procuring IT equipment for the remaining schools through its regular budget process.

Joe Buglione, instructional technology specialist at Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District in Pendleton, OR, says his entire district qualifies for Title I funding. The district, whose enrollment includes a large number of English language learners, has invested its Title I funds heavily in software programs that teach English or promote literacy. In speaking with other districts about their Title I plans, Buglione discovered some didn't want to invest in laptops or other computers for fear of running afoul of the program's requirements. The rules governing how Title I money can be used are strict: Technology purchased with the funding can only be used within the eligible school.

"You have to make sure the equipment and the software stays with the school that qualifies," Buglione explains, a prospect that can present a challenge to some districts.

Fortunately, the options don't end with Title I. Lento says districts can create a technology solution that reaches all of its schools by blending Title I dollars with money from other "buckets" of funding included in No Child Left Behind: "If Title I were the only thing, that would be the end of the story. But because there are so many buckets-- Title I; Title II, Part A; Title II, Part D--in aggregate there is this huge opportunity." (See "The Bucket List".)

Wayne County School District in West Virginia has seized such multiple funding opportunities to implement a complex, districtwide distance learning system. "Our county has more distance learning equipment than any county in West Virginia--all 21 schools have the equipment," says Annette Schoew, the district's federal programs director.

The Bucket List

DISTRICTS NEED TO KNOW that their options for paying for technology purchases are not limited to Title I. "Title I is only one piece of the puzzle," says Eileen Lento, Intel's government and education strategist. Here are some additional buckets of funding provided by No Child Left Behind that educators can dip into.

  • Title II, Part A. The Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund can help purchase technology for reforming teacher and principal certification programs.
  • Title II, Part D. Also known as the Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program, it allows for the purchase of technology to enhance student achievement.
  • Title V, Part A. Under the heading of Innovative Programs, this plan provides funding for 27 program areas, including instructional and educational materials, technology, school and education reform, and meeting the education needs of at-risk students.

To stay within Title I boundaries, Wayne County had to do some creative financing for the project. "We combined federal funding: Title I and Title V in schools that qualify for Title I, and Title II and Title V in those schools that don't receive Title I funding," Schoew explains. "The federal government likes for us to blend funds; that way we can have job-embedded staff development in one or all of our schools." By putting the funding toward a distance learning system, "we are killing multiple birds with one stone," she says. "We do staff development via distance learning. The superintendent does his calls via videoconferencing. And our countywide math and literacy coaches can go to one site and transmit to every school."

Other uses for the system include districtwide competitions. "We have schools that can have competitions with each other, such as a geography bee," Schoew explains. "We can hook up a fifth-grade classroom in every school, for example, and they can have a weekly elimination round, and at the end of the year have a competition for the grand champion--all with the distance learning equipment."

Wayne County has blended funding to provide much-needed technologies to its schools in addition to the distance learning system, including computer labs where students can use tutoring software from Carnegie Learning. "We're using Cognitive Tutor, which is a math program for high school students who test below grade level, in all three of our high schools, and so we bought a portable computer lab with Title I funds at one high school," says Schoew. "We used Title V funding to purchase labs for the two that didn't qualify for Title I funds."

On top of generating those districtwide advancements, Title I funds have given an extra boost to the district's poorer schools, according to Schoew. "Our non-Title I schools are not nearly as 21st century as our Title I schools," she says.

Technology purchases for Title I schools in Wayne County have included digital whiteboards and PDAs, as well as some off-the-beaten-path devices such as electronic poster makers from Variquest, which Schoew says help with both teaching and staff development. "Our academic coaches do staff development and they visit individual classrooms, particularly if we have new teachers or teachers who need help," she says. "They can model a lesson for the teacher on large, white, poster-size paper and run it through the Variquest Poster Maker, and it creates a visual aid that the teacher can keep and use with the students for years," she says. "So that's job-embedded staff development."

Creative funding solutions stem from training and teamwork at all levels, Schoew explains. "Our state has done a pretty good job of training us at the county level and showing us what [funding] is out there," she says. "I think our county has some forward-thinking curriculum teams made of directors of all different departments, including technology directors. If we're going to move forward, we're going to have to spend more money on technology."

Charlene O'Hanlon is a freelance writer based in New York City.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.

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