Technology Funding: A How-To Guide

from Educators' eZine

Believe it or not, better teaching and greater student achievement does not end with merely acquiring hardware and software. It must be supported by an assessment of needs, not merely wants, and that must relate to the plans for school improvement.

Adequate funding causes concern at the decision-making level, but funding must occur if schools are to succeed. That funding probably will seem less of a burden where there is a collective vision that outlines a clear connection to teaching and learning. Under such a vision, a focus on what's truly important will reign; while motivation, shared responsibilities, and an overall sense of purpose will rise to the top.

This is especially true when trying to secure technology funding and resources via grants and bond issues. Many educators believe that technology-based grants and other funding opportunities are not as easily available as in the past, while others believe the opposite, although admittedly opportunities are much more specific to areas or endeavors the sponsor can or will support. And then, to borrow, and subvert, a phrase from our 41st President, there's 'the vision thing.' No funding organization wants to give away money to an institution with no vision. Nor should they. The only way to successfully and deservingly procure outside funding for technology is through a clear vision of how those educational technologies will be used within your classrooms and schools, and how those funds will jump start and support multiple school improvement initiatives within your buildings and district.

With the above in mind, consider the following general guidelines for seeking sources of technology funds.

Bonds for Technology

More important than ever are the connections with our local and, as our world grows smaller, global communities. The secrets to gaining the support of the local population through bond issues and similar funding strategies will vary by community, but there are several over-arching traits. Involve the public and patrons of your district as an inherent part of the school learning community. Invite patrons to hold positions on district-level teams and committees. Get them involved on the actual bond issue campaign, far beyond the responsibility of making posters and buttons. They should be active participants, rather than aides. Also include the parents and patrons in interactive board of education meetings, district-level meetings, community forums, open-houses, and site-visits. Don't hide your areas of need or inadequacy; instead highlight them while pairing them with clear visions of change, growth, enhanced teaching, and increased student achievement.

Community support and involvement within your learning organization is a vision that must be incessantly fostered. Look for creative and innovative ways to invite and involve the parents and patrons of your district. Instead of the traditional third-grade open house, enhance it with technology. Involve the students by having them present an "all-about-me" multimedia presentation to their family following the introduction by the teacher. Use the district Website to highlight local progress and successes, and make sure parents know they can access online many of the same materials that they once had to visit the office for. Create a structure for evening community technology nights, where teachers and/or students present technology-based sessions with titles like Meet Microsoft Word, Present With PowerPoint, Navigate the 'Net, Picture This With Digital Cameras, etc. Of course these sessions will be free or at a very low charge assessed only to cover operating costs. Efforts such as these will build bridges between the school district and their patrons, collaboratively recognizing and sharing needs that will arise during any bond issue campaign.

Grants for Technology

There are always private and government funding sources offering a variety of funds for K-12 educational technology initiatives. To win one of these grants requires much more strategy and initiative than simply filling out an application.

Be sure to answer all questions within the grant application thoroughly, demonstrating a clear and concise vision of local needs, how that data was obtained, and how the grant will support the achievement of related goals. Focus on the instructional process whenever possible, not the hardware to be purchased. Most grant agencies tend to steer clear of basic equipment grants in favor of funding proposals that seek to change the way schools work through the use and integration of educational technology. Agencies enjoy seeing that their funds are supporting the development of new and innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and commercial agencies particularly favor proposals for innovative uses of specific products (often their own resources and/or services).

To enhance this, when possible give visual representations that present a graphic image of how the grant will change what already exists within your schools. To be honest, the major disadvantage of grants is that the school or district may not be able to continue the program after the grant period is over. So, besides showing how the grant will initiate educational change in your school, be sure to show how your district will perpetuate those changes beyond the timeline of the grant. No organization wants to fund a project that they believe will fizzle after the grant funds are exhausted, anymore than a recipient of a grant wants to see that happen.

Research available grant opportunities by contacting the administration within your district, as well as key individuals involved in grant-writing processes. You may look to state school boards, professional organizations, and technology-based organizations for information about grants in your particular areas of need. And remember – look beyond technology-based grants, being careful not to forget that many grants which focus on content and strategies now also have technology-related components within their guidelines and structure. These can creatively fund your local technology-based initiatives through avenues that you may not have anticipated or even realized.

Other Possible Avenues for "External" Funding and Support

Many districts are stymied with what to do beyond their traditional funding strategies for technology (ie. the general budget, within capital outlay/improvement funds, etc.), and just as frustrated with the current strategies they are employing. are Schools traditionally set aside funding for educational technologies each year, but are subject to some type of competitive process as inevitably there are more capital requests for improvement than there are funds available, or that the administration can honor. While a well-written technology plan can outline and support a request that calls for the requested needs within capital budgets, many districts are securing funds in other ways.

  • Technology Levies — Although levies allocated specifically for technology do provide other avenues for support beyond grants and bonds, they also carry the same major drawback — i.e. they are one-time allocations for technology, regardless of the number of years they may span. If planned well, these funds can jump-start technology-based school improvement efforts and initiatives. Without long-range planning, however, they allow the district to put off determining how they will fund those initiatives beyond the scope and timeline of the levy.
  • Technology Fees — An increasing number of school districts are charging a "technology fee" during enrollment, or within specific courses that heavily utilize technology, to help support the growing cost of maintaining technologies and related consumables. These fees vary tremendously depending on what they are designed to support, which can include anything from paper, toner and inkjet cartridges to an Internet fee supporting a district's initiative to offer broadband access to the Web within their campus.
  • Community, Group, and Partnership Donations — Creating a greater sense of community can have its advantages, such as community, group, and partnership donations. Many of these groups hold fund-raising activities throughout the academic year, and are willing to support school improvement efforts. Most support the vision and benefits of educational technologies, simply wanting to know their donations will go to a good cause, so they can see tangible results of their donations, and to allow their organization be recognized as a supporter of their local schools. Donations can be monetary hardware, and even professional development, depending upon the donor.
  • Hardware — Typically, hardware is the main focus of technology funding, and includes computer workstations and peripherals such as scanners, printers, etc. In many cases, it also includes fileservers, backup systems, and other behind-the-scenes equipment. Although they can vary tremendously within projects and among school districts, hardware costs should make up approximately 50% of the overall technology expenditures.
  • Professional Development — Technology-based professional development funding is unique in many ways. It should be tied into the overall professional development program, but should not be bound by it. It is also a critical component of the overall funding process, as it is most often overlooked or under-estimated by schools and districts. More projects are apt to fail and the blame placed on the technology itself, when the actual culprit is poor or inattentive planning associated with technology-based professional development. For every $10 typically spent on hardware, you should expect to spend another $5 on professional development for the hardware and software (ie. a 10:5 ratio), accounting for 25% of the total budget allocated for technology funding.
  • Software — Software most often includes packages at the workstation level, but should also include those at the server level, including networking software, backup software, and the like. Traditionally, for every $10 you spend on hardware, you should expect to spend an additional $3 on software for that hardware (10:3 ratio). In other words, approximately 15% of your total budget should be allocated for software.
  • Maintenance and Support Services — Beyond the initial acquisition of hardware and software, and even the design, creation and delivery of professional development activities, we must not overlook the looming fact that technology in schools is often outdated the very moment it is installed. What's worse, technology will inevitably break down, and need repairs. So, we can define maintenance and support services as the repairs, upgrades, and services required to keep existing technologies in viable working order throughout a reasonable lifespan for the technology. For every $10 spent on hardware, one should expect to spend an additional $2 on maintenance and support services (10:2 ratio), which is roughly 10% of the overall total budget allocated for technology funding.
  • Infrastructure — One very difficult area for which to anticipate funding within our new and existing buildingsis infrastructure. When a bond, grant, levy, or any referendum funds new building projects or additions, it is important to include the cost of technology infrastructure in the overall cost of the project. In addition, infrastructure should be assessed within any outstanding project, as major classroom alterations may be in order. Infrastructure can be loosely referred to as wiring (both network and electrical) and networking components (such as switches, hubs, routers, etc). A reasonable plan is to allow $1 (or more, depending on the structure, age, etc. of your buildings) per square foot for technology infrastructure. This will usually cover the cost of wiring, switches, and routers, although careful inspection and attention to details is critical. Because infrastructure costs are so dependent on the current state and condition of the building, electrical status, composition of internal walls and ceilings, and multiple other factors associated with the structure, technology infrastructure is often set aside from the overall model of funding for technology (which includes the hardware, software, professional development, and maintenance and support service components we described above).