As state coffers continue to shrink this year, there is less money for education and much of what is available is earmarked for mandates. Without deep pockets anywhere, districts have to think strategically and look for even more creative ways to fund their priorities. The money is out there if you know how to look for it, create it, or borrow it. Read on for this year's dozen daring ideas.
1. Borrow from Peter
The highest profile strategy this year is leveraging: using information, systems, technologies, funds, or other resources earmarked for one purpose to support a more pressing priority.
Training educators: The No Child Left Behind Act encourages leveraging federal funds by allowing the movement of money from one Title to another. Thel Kocher, executive director for assessment and accountability for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas, says leveraging means that they can move money between Title II (professional development) and Title V (innovative programs). With a fairly stable workforce, a priority is making sure that the staff is highly qualified. Blue Valley provides professional development to help educators use proven practices that are content specific, promote good pedagogy, and integrate technology.
Delivery: From Alabama to Alaska, states leverage State Improvement Grant funds to help with the delivery of services to students with disabilities. "Alabama emphasizes collaboration," says Julia Causey, director of the Alabama State Improvement Grant in Special Education Services. For example, they worked with reading initiatives to implement K-3 reading assessment on handheld computers statewide. Alaska is combining SIG funds to develop training for a new online IEP system and is designing a Web site for parents to access information.
2. Create a Virtual Charter School
Virtual charter schools are public entities funded by tax dollars, chartered by local school districts, and enabled by using technology for instruction.
A district contracts with a for-profit company to provide the curriculum for virtual school students to use at home and for the certified teachers who monitor student progress electronically. These schools are cost-effective because the districts receive state aid for students even though they never set foot in traditional school buildings. In addition, districts can charge a premium when enrolling out-of-district students. The Center for Education Reform reports that there are now 82 online public schools in 19 states.
Online cost savings: In Wisconsin, three of the largest virtual schools-the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, Wisconsin Connections Academy, and iQ Academies at Wisconsin-received more than 2,000 applications during the open enrollment period this spring. A five-year cost simulation, which administrators say was based on the company's experience elsewhere, shows that even a single school could bring nearly $3 million to a district in 2008-2009. For example, the Waukesha School District will pay $2,785 for every student enrolled to cover costs for the curriculum and technology needed. It will receive more than $5,000 in state aid for every student who enrolls.
3. Install Cost-Cutting Infrastructure
As with business, education can benefit from installing infrastructure to support administrative and instructional applications. For example, access infrastructure software improves performance, manageability, and access to applications that administer student records and generate compliance reports for NCLB requirements. Thin client computing provides students with an avenue to online resources and software from any computer, even from outdated or donated equipment. End-to-end IP-based networks, in which voice, data, and video information technology converge, offer application flexibility, scalability, and the capability to consolidate processes and systems to contain costs.
It's all about access: The Bellingham School District in Bellingham, Mass., didn't have enough staff to maintain the more than 1,000 computers spread across the district, and didn't have the time and resources to install and update software on each desktop. Needless to say, there was no money to hire more people. With the goal of providing and upgrading the latest applications that the schools needed, they standardized access to the latest computing resources with a Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server. Now they can guarantee that all the schools have access to the software they need at a lower cost.
Thinking thin: Arizona's Snowflake Unified School District reduced their IT budget by 20 percent when they switched from traditional PC computer labs to server-centric computing and thin clients in the classroom. They added 1,000 thin clients to their installed base of 700 PCs and reduced their technical staff from six to two. The Wyse Winterm thin clients with Wyse Rapport software provides access to learning tools for the 2,400 students in this rural school district and centralizes technology support.
Following protocol: The Okanagan Skaha School District 67 in British Columbia faced continuing budget cuts from declining enrollment and inflation, but demand for information access, administration, and technical support services continued to grow. The district worked with Cisco to install a multiservices, IP-based network to power educational programs and community outreach services. The resulting server deployment reductions alone amounted to a one-time savings of $120,000. The district reorganized services under a single architecture to reduce overhead. They even eliminated the costs of maintaining and upgrading software for thousands of computers, and saved $100,000 in licensing costs through bulk application software purchases.
4. Find a Friendly Foundation or Start One
Grant seekers often check the techLEARNING.com database for foundation grants or visit the Foundation Center. Yet competition for these grants is fierce and often limited by conditions such as location, economics, or purpose. Another way to acquire funds is to connect with a foundation that's more closely tied to your priorities-by linking up with local corporate giving efforts or creating a nonprofit foundation yourself.
Off the shelf: Education in Idaho has a friend at the supermarket. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, the donations arm of the Albertson supermarket chain, is located in Boise and supports educational initiatives in the state. For example, five years ago, state leaders wanted to design a student information management system. They approached stakeholders such as the legislature, the governor, and local associations of educators, school boards, and school administrators. The legislature declined to fund their initiative, so they went to the foundation with a proposal for a pilot program. They got a two-year $3.5 million grant to implement the system in 13 districts. Then they went back to the legislature, which again declined to fund the project. The foundation agreed to give another $35 million over three years for all 115 districts under the condition that the legislature would provide another $18 million after that. The legislature then agreed to the deal.
Home grown: Some school districts create foundations to support programs that fall outside of budgetary line items or that would suffer cuts in these tough economic times. In the Poway Unified School District, for example, the foundation does all the major fund-raising. Through its Partners in Education program, businesses have worked one-on-one with schools, funded wireless communication for eighth-grade science, provided the computer support technician program at the high schools, and more. As of June 30, 2003, the donations totaled $396,386.
Do it yourself: Whether an area is rich or poor, donations pile up when the money is for children. The Council on Foundations provides valuable information on starting a foundation.
Council on Foundations: www.cof.org
The Foundation Center: fdncenter.org
J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation: jkaf.org/index.html
Poway Unified School District Foundation: powayusd.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/partners/foundation.htm
techLEARNING.com Grants database: www.techlearning.com/resources/grants.jhtml
Pioneering Partnerships: The Idaho Experiment
Establishing a new model for efficiency in meeting the assessment and reporting mandates of NCLB is a groundbreaking initiative by the state of Idaho. A collaboratively-based solution, the Idaho Student Information Management System relies on the team efforts of the Idaho Department of Education, J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, AdvanTech LLC, AAL Solutions, CRI Advantage, and PLATO Learning. Benefits of the project to date include timelier communication and resolution of problems, and less costly, more efficient delivery of services to all districts. Read more about the project at www.matr.net/article-9400.html.
5. Partner to Win a Grant
While grant writing is not a new idea, districts are using partnerships as an effective way to win lucrative, competitive grants.
Learning from each other: When the Palo Alto Unified School District in California wanted to install a video production and journalism center in each high school, it looked to its neighbors and partnered with four nearby districts, including the high-poverty East Palo Alto schools. They applied to the Cable Cooperative, which had franchise fee funds to award, and won $785,000 for a three-year grant for equipment, training, and support. There were more benefits than the money. According to Marie Scigliano, Palo Alto's director of technology, "The collective voice created synergy as the five directors worked together and learned from each other."
Power partners: In Beaufort, S.C., the school district wanted to explore one-on-one computing in the classroom using handhelds. They partnered with SRI, the nonprofit research institute that had previously studied handheld use for a Palm-funded grant. Together they won a grant from the National Science Foundation to demonstrate how handheld technology can help students improve learning in hands-on science activities. Researchers and educators in Project WHIRL are designing and testing software to help students improve the quality of their scientific questions, their procedures for data collection, recording, and analysis, and their understanding of complex sequences and processes in nature.
6. Ask the Community
You'll never know the answer if you don't ask the question, and while some communities are into belt tightening, others are saying yes to additional spending for schools. In the latest election, for example, California voters passed a school bond referendum to provide $12.3 billion to improve school facilities. Local district school bond issues were voted up as well.
Bond caveat: Approving bonds can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. In Sewell, N.J., the Washington Township Public Schools got $50 million from a bond referendum in 1996. It funded new schools, new infrastructure, new wiring for voice, video, and data, and 22,000 new computers. Perhaps the town saw this as a long-term fix, however. Since then, the school budget has failed every year.
The T word: Another option is to raise taxes. In South Carolina, the state allows each district to create individual taxes for technology, and the districts allow each school to decide how to spend its share. In Manatee County, Fla., citizens have approved two sales tax initiatives for technological growth. Through these funds, the district built a network infrastructure for each school, and each classroom got Internet access and a base number of desktop computers for teacher and student use.
7. Apply for E-Rate and Other Federal Funds
The FCC's Schools and Libraries Division could end up committing close to $3 billion to last year's E-rate applicants, thanks to the rollover of $420 million that was not used in previous years. This means the SLD is approving requests for networking equipment from schools eligible for a discount rate up to 70 percent. It's the lowest that threshold has been since 1999. For help with the process, use Funds For Learning's free E-rate Manager tool.
Outside of education: Some districts build on their E-rate funds by finding grants not traditionally considered education sources. Mississippi's Jones County School District won a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and uses this award together with E-rate funds to build on previous state and school district expenditures for networking infrastructure. The state installed connectivity from the capitol to each school district. The districts, in turn, used E-rate funds to connect to each school. The county is using this new money-a half million dollars from the USDA's Rural Utilities Service combined with $719,000 of new E-rate funding for eligible classroom and networking equipment-to provide distance learning for 25 schools in nine rural school districts.
8. Partner with Business
Asking businesses to help schools is fairly common practice, but some districts have honed their skills to a very profitable result. Building trust over time with both local businesses and the vendor community can solve budget shortfalls. For example, working with a telecommunications provider can reap financial benefits, not only in getting discounted services but also in building profits for both. Since technology companies today need to prove the effectiveness of their products, some districts think ahead and partner for testing purposes or as beta sites with an eye to permanent discounts.
Building for a rainy day: The Poway Unified School District in California knows about relationships. Local merchants provide quarterly donations to support programs like Reading Recovery for first-graders. And Charles Garten, Poway's technology director, works with technology companies such as the SAS Institute and Gateway over the long term. For example, Poway pays $40,000 a year for data warehousing maintenance for 33,000 students. When budget woes struck, SAS cut their costs by 50 percent for that year and said they'd see what they could do in the future. When a new school opened and the district couldn't afford computers, Gateway donated equipment that had been used for the Winter Olympics.
Revenue sharing: The Plano Independent School District in Texas has a comarketing agreement with Verizon that provides the district with monthly revenue for every subscriber to the myPISD.net services if they order Verizon DSL through the district. Since $10 per subscriber per month comes back to the district, the program pays for itself and adds to the district's general revenue fund.
Become a model: With research as a requirement for purchasing software with federal funds, there's a great need to have a body of evidence that proves that a company's products improve student achievement. One way to get software at favorable costs is to be a test site for research studies with an agreement that includes future sales at a low price. The other benefit is in learning what works in your district. For example, in Revere, Mass., using Lexia Learning products resulted in Title I students catching up to their non-Title I counterparts in one year. Another strategy is to be the first.
"If you're on the bleeding edge," says Idaho's technology director Dawn Wilson, "you can get a great deal because the company needs you. Once they're in, they'll advertise it and get other states to sign on, but not at a discounted price."
9. Put It Online
Once technology is in place, changing services from face-to-face to virtual may provide resources anytime and anyplace at lower costs.
Research from afar: In previous years, California's Palo Alto School District received $20.00 per student for library services. This year, the figure is $1.80 because of cutbacks in the state's Library Protection Fund. Switching to electronic access allowed the district to provide services at reduced costs.
Virtual visits: In Washington Township, N.J., the entire field trip budget was cut. To compensate, the technology leaders found virtual field trips that are linked to curriculum for use in the elementary schools.
10. Stretch Your Dollars-Buy Now, Pay Later
When the economy doesn't show signs of improving anytime soon, school districts know that their budgets could suffer year after year. Committing money in advance-and gaining sizeable discounts because of it-can make a difference.
Longer subscriptions: When Palo Alto's budget cuts impacted their libraries, the district negotiated two-year contracts for eLibrary resources for the 2003-2005 school years. They got reduced rates because of the subscription length. Discounts ranged from 15 to 30 percent from services such as SIRS, World Book, and Gale Group.
Five-year plan: Washington Township's school-business administrator Margaret Meehan negotiated a five-year payment cycle for hardware. The district wanted to reduce the costs to taxpayers and regulate expenditures over time. They got a lease-purchase contract for $1.2 million of equipment from Dell through a state hardware contract and borrowed the funds to pay from the lowest bidding finance company at 1.9 percent interest. They currently pay back one-fifth of the total cost each year. During the five-year span, they are able to keep costs steady, plan for the future, and are ready to start a new cycle painlessly.
11. Raise Funds Online
Many schools reluctantly send students out into the community armed with candy, gift wrap, and holiday gift catalogs. Some do silent auctions and sell raffle tickets. What these methods have in common is that parents are tapped to donate extra money. Some districts have found an alternative that's safer for students, less costly for parents, and easier to manage for teachers: raising money through online fund-raising sites.
Spend to earn: Through eScrip, partner merchants reward customer loyalty by donating a percentage of purchases to the school. Parents register their credit and debit cards with the eScrip program and a percentage of all purchases made with partner merchants goes to the school. The Schoolpop service has a Web site that links to its participating merchants, and when parents click on a link, the resulting purchase automatically contributes a percentage. Parents also are signing up for Auction & Earn, a program where Schoolpop sells parent's cast-offs on eBay and sends a check to the school.
Spread the wealth: Parent volunteer Penny Herndon, whose children attend the Contra Costa Christian School in Walnut Creek, Calif., runs the school's fund-raising efforts. By relying on such programs as eScrip and Schoolpop, she rakes in thousands of dollars for the school that they wouldn't have had. In the process, parents do their normal shopping-of groceries, sneakers, and fast food, for example-and the school reaps the benefit, earning an average of 7 percent of each sale. Herndon estimates this year's bounty at $50,000, some of which will fund improvements to the technology infrastructure to give parents access to the school's server. They will be able to log on from home and access their children's scores-and the fund-raising totals.
12. Find Free Stuff
Educators are great at finding free stuff. With so many online resources (including ours at techLEARNING.com), articles, materials, lessons, and more are available 24/7 at no cost. Districts are are also following suit.
Training: Maryland's Prince Georges County Public Schools trains master teachers at no cost with Intel's Teach to the Future program. According to Tia Washington Davis, the information technology coordinator, these trainers use what they've learned to help their colleagues in the schools to integrate technology, and the district saves on professional development costs for its trainers.
Interstate offerings: When one state has a great idea, others often follow. In this case, rather than using the California Learning Resource Network as a model, other states tap into its free resources themselves. As a state-funded, free software and materials review consortium, CLRN provides evaluations of software, videos, and Web sites, ties them to standards, and provides original resources as well as links to existing online resources. CLRN's director Bridget Foster says the center helps save California districts money by doing compliance reviews for products, mandated standards alignments for classroom resources, and conducting research. It maintains databases of electronic learning resource reviews, content standards, Web links, and training materials. Since membership has grown to 14,323 registered members in 49 states and U.S. territories, it also saves money for many districts around the country.
Gwen Solomon is director of techLEARNING.com.
Find Grants Online
Cut to the chase with these paperless resources.
eSchool News School Funding Center: www.eschoolnews.com/resources/funding
Grants.gov: www.grants.gov br>School Funding Services: www.schoolfundingservices.org
U.S. Department of Education Grants: www.ed.gov/fund/landing.jhtml?src=rt
New and Improved E-Rate Opps
Here we detail four "mid-course corrections" that the FCC and SLD are putting in place to improve the E-rate program and help it achieve its policy goals.
By: Orin Heend
The height of the E-rate application season may still seem a bit down the line, but it's never too early to start thinking about how your school or district can take advantage of this substantial source of funding for educational technology.
Through the E-rate program, public and private schools can qualify for discounts, ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent, on the cost of telecommunications services, Internet access, and certain kinds of networking equipment and wiring. This year, schools and libraries that participate in the program will be able to tap into close to $3 billion worth of discounts. As such, the E-rate program remains the largest dedicated source of funding for educational technology in the United States.
Several important changes are being made in the program this year.
1) Cutting down on paperwork: Starting July 1, schools will be able to dictate their preference of billing method from their participating vendor. That means a school can choose to receive a discounted bill from the vendor covering its portion of the cost. Or it can choose to seek reimbursement from the program when it has already paid the full cost of the product or service. Schools will still be required to notify the Schools and Libraries Division that they have actually started receiving services, and they must do so on a timely basis. But once that is done, they will no longer be required to file the Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement form if they would rather have their vendors take care of processing the paperwork to receive their approved discount payments.
2) Broadening the reach: Schools that have not been able to qualify for discounts on internal connections in recent years should also take heart. The Federal Communications Commission is letting the SLD approve a larger dollar value of funding commitments. E-rate discounts for internal connections will be available to a greater number of schools than in the past. And starting this fall, schools will be able to qualify for support on maintenance every year.
3) Grounding equipment: Applicants will not be permitted to transfer equipment supported with E-rate discounts for a period of three years, unless a school closes on a permanent or temporary basis. This policy is designed to address a concern that some applicants were purchasing E-rate-supported equipment, moving it to another, wealthier school, and then applying all over again.
4) Updates: The FCC has also committed itself to publicizing potential changes in the eligible services list much earlier in the year, and to soliciting feedback from program stakeholders about its proposed list. This will provide applicants and vendors with a better opportunity to make the case as to why particular products and services should be treated as eligible.
Orin Heend is president of Funds For Learning, an E-rate consulting firm, and creator of E-rate Manager SL (www.eratemanager.com), a free tool designed to make the E-rate application process easier for schools and libraries.
Creative Funding: Alamogordo, N.M.
Here's a profile of one district's imaginative strategy for funding their technology program.
By: Tony Korwin
Alamogordo is a town of about 30,000 in south central New Mexico, 90 miles from the Mexican border and with Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range nearby. We have about 6,800 students with a diverse cultural makeup. New Mexico often gets a bad rap in ratings compared to the rest of the country, but overall, the state does a great job with the money it dedicates to education. Alamogordo recently was named the number two district for quality of education by Expansion Management Magazine.
Our operations budget has grown over the last four years, mostly because of a very supportive superintendent and school board that wants our district to be a technology flagship in the Southwest. We are almost there. We installed our own fiber optics network for city schools and a wireless connection to the three schools on base at nearby Holloman AFB.
Here is a brief overview of where we've found funds during the last two years.
Operational funds: This is my budget for general operations. It includes salaries for five techs, an administrative assistant, and me; it also includes some general monies for repair and contractual services, and year-to-year hardware and software subscriptions. Excluding salaries, we get about $130,000.
State technology funds: This is state money allocated by formula, and last year we received about $100,000.
Educational Technology notes: This is a district-sponsored bond. Last year the school board floated a $2 million bond for various technologies; however, by law, we cannot use these notes for staffing or professional development, only for hardware and software. I am working with various people in the state legislature to get this changed. The hardware and software paradigm was prevalent back in the late 80s and early 90s when this bonding capacity was created by the state. Last year, we purchased over 1,200 new computer systems, plus many backend hardware and software support pieces. We did negotiate with Dell to get their online learning system as an add-on to the systems we bought so that our faculty did have some professional development.
EETT formula funds: We used last years' Enhancing Education Through Technology monies (about $40,000) to support the first "reboot" camp for teachers in July last year. This staff development program lasted a week, and more than 125 teachers attended to learn about and discuss technology integration. We also negotiated with New Mexico State University to provide a credit component for attending the camp. This year, we received about $70,000, which we are using to sponsor this year's reboot camp. We expect more than 400 participants.
EETT competitive funds: We received about $62,000 to staff a full-time training position this year. This person creates centralized and building-level technology training opportunities and coordinates external training opportunities. Since our Educational Technology notes would not allow staff development, we leveraged that in our application for EETT, stating that we wanted to use 100 percent of the funds for staff development to counter the hardware spending of the Ed Tech Bond.
Title I, II, and IV funds: I have a good working relationship with the associate superintendent for federal programs. She supports technology integration and has purchased technologies and software for Title I students. She also allowed 35 teachers to use Title II monies to attend the NCCE conference in Portland, and 25 teachers are going to Spokane this year. She has upgraded software and paid for the STaRs program in which we pay a certified teacher a stipend at each building to be the building-level resource to other teachers on questions of integration and support.
E-rate: Our district had not received any monies since the second year of the program. Last year, we put in internal connections applications for years 6 and 7. To date, we have been awarded $1.4 million for year 6 internal connections and are expecting more. Year 7 has not started its award process yet.
Other: We also put aside other budgetary monies for the purchase of a new student information system this spring. We combined Department of Defense funds and special education funds to supplement this purchase. Next year, the special education director is planning to create a technician position dedicated to assistive technology. The associate superintendent intends to do the same for a Title I technology specialist position to help support those programs that are Title I-specific.
In a state where the average spending per pupil is one of the lowest in the nation, New Mexico actually does well with regard to technology.
Tony Korwin directs technology support services for Alamogordo Public Schools in New Mexico.