Where's the Money? Four Places to Find Tech Funding
The Obama administration has moved things around, but tech funding options still abound—if you know where to look.
- By Susan McLester
Charles Blaschke, president and founder of Education Turnkey Systems, takes account of President Obama's proposed changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and declares, "It's a whole new ballgame."
Blaschke's company has tracked federal funding of education programs for nearly 40 years, and even he might need a scorecard to sort out the new players now that the Obama administration is moving away from formula grants to a greater reliance on competitive grants, and from 38 narrowly defined buckets of money to nine consolidated programs. The shift has introduced a host of new challenges for districts looking to use federal money to pay for some of their technology programs in 2011 and beyond.
In particular, the unclear status of Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act, Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), the last protected pocket of money for school technology, has districts and industry groups fearing the future of federal technology funding.
Blaschke and other industry experts are quick to point out, though, that even with EETT at stake, technology funds are far from dried up. You just may need to employ more creative strategies to tap into them--and they may be tucked away in places you hadn't thought to look. We point the way to four distinct areas to take your search.
"It's not about new money, but about repurposing existing money," says Mark Schneiderman, director of education policy at the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), of Obama's changes. "Instead of starting with the technology, or thinking of it as an 'add-on,' we need to begin with schools' needs and objectives and work back to how technology fits in." Where technology solutions can add efficiency and effectiveness to program objectives, there are myriad opportunities for schools to find support.
Both Schneiderman and Blaschke point to the numerous funding opportunities integrated throughout the nine newly consolidated ESEA education programs that the US Department of Education has said amount to more than $22 billion. Here are two such examples:
In the Excellent Instructional Teams initiative, schools can justify the purchase of technology to collect data on attendance, academic progress, teacher training, and similar factors that influence student achievement. Tracking such elements is central to the process of crafting the "performance-based compensation systems" the Education Department requires of schools that want to tap into Teacher Incentive Funds.
Under the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which targets such areas as data systems, assessment, and school turnarounds, grants are awarded to districts or consortia in three categories, with evidence of positive impact on students the common determinant: 1) scale-up grants, which support programs that show the ability to reach hundreds of thousands of students; 2) validation grants, which expand on programs with demonstrated effectiveness; and 3) development grants, which support high-potential programs whose impact needs further study. Digital information systems for assessment and data analysis come into play across the board. If i3 is funded for a second year, the 2011 deadline should be announced Jan. 1.
Foundations & Organizations
Despite the lagging economy, some good news is the continued availability of private grants that fund technology for schools. Most seekers are looking for technology grants, says Karen Greenwood Henke, owner of Nimble Press, a grant services consultancy, and its Grant Wrangler database. She suggests framing the request within the context of a science, technology, engineering, or math project to take advantage of the more plentiful STEM grants available.
The American Honda Foundation Grants focus on STEM, literacy, job training, and environmental fields. Schools can apply once in a 12-month period for grants ranging from $20,000 to $60,000. Yearly deadlines are the first day of February, May, August, and November. Last year's winners included an after-school science and engineering program; an innovative math and science teacher-training program; and a science-oriented television show and website hosted by students from low-performing schools. A complete list of recent winners can be found on the American Honda Foundation Grants web page.
Digital Wish grants match educator applicants with donors to provide cash and technology products for modernizing K-12 classrooms. Digital Wish, which has bestowed grants on more than 8,000 classrooms this year alone, has recently awarded database management software, science simulation software, podcasting support, and more. Deadlines exist throughout the year.
DoSomething.org offers $500 grants to teens and twentysomethings to put their community development and growth ideas into action. Through this award, high school students might assist their local schools in the purchase and use of technology for such projects as creating websites that pair grant providers with needy schools or students, as some recent winners have done. Other winners noted on the website include a documentary on women in poverty, a low-income neighborhood mural project, a music recording program for inner-city youth, and a wheelchair sports club.
Both Seed Grants and Growth Grants are offered on a weekly basis during the year. Money is paid out directly to recipients, with 2009 awards exceeding $392,000.
The Tech Museum Tech Awards recognize individuals and organizations for their contributions in education, among other areas. Each year, three education laureates are honored; one is awarded $50,000. Among last year's winners were the Khan Academy, which produced more than 900 YouTube videos covering everything from basic arithmetic to calculus, chemistry, and physics, and the Geogebra open source math site. The 2011 deadline for nominations is March 31.
The Toshiba America Foundation offers grants to K-12 educators for science and math projects. Applications for awards of $5,000 or less are accepted throughout the year. Proposals for more than $5,000 are reviewed twice a year, with deadlines of Feb. 1 and Aug. 1.
The Verizon Foundation education grants focus on literacy and 21st century readiness, integrating instructional resources offered through Verizon's Thinkfinity Community website. A sampling of 2010 winners: a "bridge the gap" summer camp to help minority high school students learn to use technology resources, and a professional learning community to help STEM instructors master a range of graphic technologies.
Multiple deadlines for unsolicited proposals run from Jan. 1 through Oct. 1.
Schools and districts can take advantage of significant cost-savings and cash-back opportunities through "green" programs offered by state and regional utility companies. Deals range from free or reduced-cost energy audits to large rebates for retrofitting data centers. Standard requirements for utility cash-back programs include being an existing customer, advance filing and approval of rebate applications, and pre- and post-retrofit inspections by the utility company.
In Texas, Oncor offers customers up to $400 per server removed in data center virtualization projects through its "Take a Load Off, Texas" program. Additional cash-back virtualization projects are offered by the Energy Trust of Oregon, which pays customers $350 per server removed; California's Pacific Gas and Electric, which offers between $150 and $300 per removed server; and Wisconsin's Focus on Energy, which gives customers $250 for each removed and recycled server and $60 for each PC replaced by a thin client.
Xcel Energy, which operates in Colorado, Minnesota, and other states, offers districts rebates of up to $25,000 for the cost of performing efficiency studies and $400 for each kilowatt hour saved through energy-efficient implementations. Arizona Public Service pays up to $10,000 for new design assistance, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority's (NYSERDA) FlexTech program has a 50 percent cost-share data center assessment model, which means educational institutions pay just half the cost of an efficiency study, which can run as high as $35,000.
Teaming up with outside entities can create new and lucrative sources of revenue for technology, especially for schools and districts in special circumstances.
School Improvement Grants, available to help Title I schools exit "needs improvement" status, are funded in 2010 at an unprecedented $3.5 billion. SIG funds three models: turnarounds, which fire the principal and replace 50 percent of staff; transformations, which focus on extended learning time and instructional reform; and restarts, which reopen as charter schools or under other management organizations. Districts apply to their states for funds and include proposals and chosen models for reform. Proposals can identify partnerships--among other strategies--including "social-emotional and community-oriented services." One example in the SIG guidelines is a family literacy program for parents, which might include a technology center in partnership with a community college, tutoring center, or other local provider.
Rural schools and districts with populations of 20,000 or less can partner with local telecommunications companies for advanced technology resources and services through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine program. Offered through the US Agriculture and Commerce departments, DLT funds computer hardware and software, interactive video equipment, instructional planning, technical assistance, and more. Available are loans, grants, and loan-grant combinations from $50,000 to $500,000, with "open season" for these competitive applications announced each year, usually in January.
All districts--including those not falling into special categories--can gain monetarily from forming regional consortia for reduced-rate or bulk purchases of hardware, software, and services. Districts can also team up with businesses to help fund technologies that will prepare students for the workplace. Many ed tech vendors retain grant experts who can help schools write winning proposals to provide support for their solutions.
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of THE Journal.