Funding Survival Kit | Viewpoint

5 K-12 Funding Trends That Follow the Money

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's August 2012 Digital Edition along with an exclusive podcast with tips on how to write a winning grant proposal.

Editor's note:
T.H.E. Journal's newest column, Funding Survival Kit, will offer advice on how to navigate the K-12 funding landscape to help with the acquisition of technology. The advice will come from researchers and consultants at RedRock Reports, an educational technology consultancy. In this inaugural column, company President Jenny House provides an overview of the five most important funding trends likely to impact the K-12 environment in the coming year. Look for future articles to explore many of these and other salient points in greater detail. 

1. Shifting Perceptions of Technology's Role
With digital content becoming a primary source of instructional delivery across the curriculum and in professional development, the critical role technology is playing in schools is unprecedented. Funding for technology traditionally has focused on hardware, infrastructure, and supplementary instructional content acquisitions. Now, however, technology is seen as part of a total instructional solution for a school or a district. Federal funds that used to be dedicated to equipment acquisition are now integrated into the funds created to support teaching and learning.

Your search for funds to purchase technology can now include instructional programs like Title I--Career- and College-Readiness, Title IIA--Improving Teacher Quality, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and others. All of these funds support technology purchases when they are made in the context of a total instructional solution. This means it will be important to articulate how your state, district, or school is incorporating technology into its total education solution--curriculum plus assessment plus professional development.  

No longer is it merely a question of buying electronics equipment; rather the challenge to you is to determine what technology purchases support instructional goals for improving student achievement and teacher and leader quality. How does technology help improve reading and computing for your low-performing students? What technology is required to do this? How does technology enable and engage your students with disabilities? What technologies can help your teachers be more effective in engaging students, and how can you train them efficiently and support them throughout the year? The trick is to match the technologies with the tasks you wish to achieve. If you can do this, the money should be there to help you execute your plan.

2. More Competition
In 2011, only 16 percent of federal funding was competitive. The rest was distributed by formula, given to districts based on their students' and communities' demographics, academic performance, or other factors. In 2012, the percentage of competitive funds rose to 24 percent--a $4.9 billion increase. The prediction is that, given the challenging economic environment these days, this percentage will continue to grow as new funds are added to the federal list.

But there is still another new element in these grants that you must consider when putting together a team to pursue them--multiple entities that must participate. Some of the biggest grants, like Race to the Top (both state and district) and Investing in Innovation (i3), require that not only the district but also rural schools, nonprofits, universities, and vendors participate. This entails massive amounts of coordination, delegation, articulation, and communication throughout the grant-writing process. Each entity will negotiate budgets, but only one can take the lead and manage the process throughout the term of the grant. That can be a challenge, but the size of the grant makes it worth the effort. The two mentioned above could be as large as $25 million over a five-year span.

What does this enhanced competition for government dollars for education mean to you? The composition of your grant-writing teams may change as the task begins to require project management skills as well as writing skills to complete the submissions. It means that teams must be ready to react quickly to applications and to meet strict deadlines. In these times of personnel cutbacks, allocating resources to pursue grants might prove difficult, so identify potential players now for opportunities that will come in the new school year.  

This is an interesting trend in pursuing competitive grants. Many of the new federal and state competitive funds require that a district partner with another entity like a nonprofit, a university, a rural school, or even another district. The Race to the Top District competition is a great example, as districts are encouraged to collaborate with multiple partners. Thus, you need to plan your dance card. Start thinking about the areas where you don't have the internal capacity to achieve your innovative goals. Also, which entities will garner you extra points if you include them in your applications (such as rural schools)?

3. The Drive to Personalize
The newest Race to the Top opportunity is a specific call to districts for a strong focus on personalization. Districts are being asked to demonstrate how they can personalize and individualize education for students. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently noted, "We need to take classroom learning beyond a one-size-fits-all model and bring it into the 21st century."

This is an outstanding opportunity for you to demonstrate the effective use of technology to assess individual student needs, deliver personalized instruction that adapts to the learner's abilities and interests, and monitor performance through extensive data tracking and analysis. There are ample funds to develop the infrastructure; provision the classrooms and students with technology and digital content; and deliver instruction to leaders, teachers, students, and parents in both online and blended environments.

Applicants serving 2,500 to 5,000 students can get $15 million to $20 million, those serving between 5,001 and 9,999 can get $17 million to $22 million, and those serving 10,000 students or more can get from $20 million to $25 million. Grants will span a five-year timeline, which is plenty of time for you to implement a truly innovative plan.  

This round of Race to the Top grants is very different from its predecessors in that districts may apply directly. This fund does not go through the state application process. Applications, available right now at, are due in October and funds will be awarded in December.

Districts must have at least 2,500 students to be eligible to apply, but smaller districts can apply in conjunction with others. Only 15 to 20 awards will be made nationwide. If you have a great grant team and a district that is passionate about innovation in improving student achievement, this is a great opportunity.

4. More Evaluation

Another interesting aspect of the new Race to the Top District grant points to a growing trend--more comprehensive evaluation. This does not just mean evaluating the plan. It does not even just mean teacher evaluation tied to student performance, as we have seen in the previous Race to the Top state grants. This new grant adds a very interesting twist--evaluation of leaders: principals, superintendents, and school boards. Never before have the latter two been included in grant competition requirements.

5. Research, Research, Research
Research-based practice is nothing new. But in June, a landmark announcement went out from the US Office of Management and Budget. Due to the economic challenges that we confront as a country, all entities receiving federal funds must provide evidence of efficacy for any product or service they purchase. Now translate that message to education. In order to purchase products such as digital content, vendors must be able to provide evidence of efficacy. You need to ask companies what research they have to support their claims that their products will help improve student achievement or teacher quality.

The Bottom Line
The good news is that there is funding out there. The bad news? There is funding out there. I say that because the education funding world is complex and constantly changing. But don't be discouraged. Over the course of the year, we will do our best to simplify the funding landscape for you so that you can identify, pursue, and secure funds to support your programs.

Next month: What sequestration in the federal budget could mean for education funding.