We Asked the Experts

from Technology & Learning

Funding consultants share their best advice on how to win those grant dollars.

Get Your Ducks in a Row

Key Factors to keep in mind when building your technology plan.

By Ken Brown

The summer is upon us, and fall is near. You have great ideas for your programs to grow and expand them, but how? Your budget is the same as last year and most of it is already committed. So where are the incremental dollars and how do you and your team go for them?

The number one priority is to organize and prepare your information. Fastreleased grants, RFPs with unrealistic turnarounds, and proposals to funders of great ideas—all of them require the most up-to-date information that reflects the profile of your district or school. How do you "get your ducks in a row" so that you can respond quickly, effectively, and with accurate information? Here are a few tips to address these requirements as this new school season begins.

  • Do you know the tax ID of your organization? This is one of the first pieces of data that must be included in response to any funding proposal or response.
  • What are the demographics? There are many ways to look at this and you need to be on top of many of them:
  • What are the test scores of your district? One of the most important criteria for many of the funding sources is the current level of performance of your district and/or school. You need a highlevel description. If you can translate this into graphs and charts that you can insert into proposals, you will be much better prepared than your competitors. The more ways you can cut these the better: grade levels, ethnicity, socioeconomics, program-specific, and more.
  • Assess your needs. There are many sources of funds out there that are great to pursue. But they need to match your needs, and if you aren't clear about your needs—or cannot quantify them and describe them—your positioning won't be as persuasive to the funder.
  • What existing programs meet student needs? What are the successes you have now? Become a marketer. Tout your programs and their impact on students, families, and community. If you can show past success, funders will have confidence that you may transpose those strategies onto the program you are requesting them to fund in the coming year.
  • Funding Success. Eighty percent of proposals funded are to districts and schools with previous success in winning, implementing, managing, and evaluating previous grants. It is the old adage—it takes money to make money—but in a different way than the traditional business scenario. Funders want to make sure if you get the money, you can use the money effectively. One way of ensuring that is to pick sites that have a good record in this area. But to those of you who have never received one, don't give up. I recommend talking to someone from a district who has written a proposal and was granted funds. Find out what they did, how they did it, and, if possible, read their proposal. Yours will be different, but you might find elements that will give you a head start and help you avoid the pitfalls of weak proposals.
  • Choose the right source of funding to pursue. It can almost be like picking someone to date. Choose the source of funding based on your district or school profile, your student performance, your needs, your community, and your past funding performance. Get the right funder, the right funds, and the best partner to use funds to help students succeed and provide proof at the end of the term that this indeed was the outcome.
  • What is the profile of your student population? Think numbers, ethnicity, ages, socioeconomic status, primary languages, and so forth. This information needs to be updated each year.
  • What are the demographics of your staff? Ask the same questions as you did with students, plus a few more: length of tenure, education background, subject specialty, etc.
  • What are the demographics of the community you serve?

As a reader of many local, state, and federal grant proposals, I'm well aware when writers don't have the correct information about themselves to convince me to award them funds. Use this quiet time of year to get your data ready. That will give you a huge advantage over your peers as you pursue the funds quickly, effectively, and convincingly. Good luck!

Jenny House is principal for Red Rock Reports, which provides the K-12 publishing, technology, and services community with information about education funding and funding trends.

Get That Formative Assessment Grant

By Paula Love

A few years ago the category of formative assessment software didn't even exist. However, many believe the real power of technology to differentiate instruction will be demonstrated by the use of formative assessment to determine how well each child understands a concept and in which areas he or she needs more assistance.

Key findings from the American Digital Schools Report 2006

Formative assessment is becoming a significant factor in the process of funding education programs at all levels of government. In 2006 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies launched the Expectmore.gov Web site, providing assessment reports on Federal programs. Each program is reviewed using the program assessment rating tool (PART). Legislators utilize information from PART to determine funding allocations for government programs. Clearly assessment is a critical factor in education programs and the grants that support these programs. Some key elements you can implement to secure greater funds for your education formative assessment initiatives involve...

  • Developing a working knowledge of the types of assessment in education programs.
  • Conducting a needs analysis of assessment challenges in your organization.
  • Establishing the justification and expected outcomes of the assessment project. If you want your assessment project to get funded, then you need to demonstrate that you have the ability to measure your results.
  • Planning and determining the resources that the assessment project will need:
  • Designing and creating a database to facilitate the collection, storing, and retrieving of data. This enables you to write, implement, and report your assessment project.
  • Forming a group of educators as a "think tank." Make sure you invite key personnel from each department and education leaders from your schools and district. Keep this group informed by sending monthly e-mails on various grant opportunities and information.
  • Bookmarking the Expectmore.gov Web site and utilizing the evaluation reports to better understand what is working and why. This will provide important information in selecting the grant's purpose, goals, and objectives.
  • Considering electronic formative assessment as an essential component of a high-performing school.
  • Needs/baseline assessment
  • Formative assessment
  • Summative assessment
  • Philosophy and pedagogy currently implemented in district
  • Leadership knowledge and support and responsibility
  • Teacher knowledge and support and professional development needs
  • The students' role
  • Acquire knowledge of scientificbased research on education assessment.
  • Enlist executive sponsorship to support your assessment project through education leadership involvement.

Paula Love is president of Quarter Source, a consulting firm assisting education leaders with design and delivery of funding strategies.

The Successful E-Rate Application

By Peter Kaplan

The E-rate regulations are complex, and the guidance and rules seem to change each year. There are many deadlines stakeholders need to know about and compliance issues that are important to understand. Here are a few quick tips that should help you with this process.

  • Don't give up on E-rate funding. There have been dozens of improvements over the past two years, making the E-rate a "kinder, gentler" program. Even though it may seem overwhelming, or you may have been frustrated in the past, apply for E-rate funding. The program shows no signs of ending anytime soon and almost everyone who applies correctly is assured of some funding.
  • Monitor the program for changes. Knowledge of E-rate rules, and what rules have changed, gives you the best chance for success. Each year, hundreds of applications are rejected for reasons that are avoidable. Stay current by attending state or regional E-rate training events and by regularly visiting the E-rate program's official Web site.
  • Understand what qualifies for funding. One of the top causes of funding denial is a request for services and products that do not qualify for support. If 30 percent or more of a funding request is ineligible then the entire funding request will be denied. Based on recent changes, the E-rate administrator, USAC, must be proactive and let you know if you will be subject to this rule and give you a chance to revise your application. However, it is still best to request funding only for eligible goods and services.
  • Partner with knowledgeable vendors. Cost must be the highestweighed factor in selecting a vendor. However, you should also evaluate their experience and knowledge of the E-rate funding process. Your vendor's assistance will be important as you prepare your funding application, submit description of service attachments, answer application review questions, and begin to implement your E-rate-funded project.
  • Track your paperwork. The E-rate rules require you to retain your documentation for a fiveyear period, and the E-rate administrators are spending more resources auditing beneficiaries. There are many instances where documentation was lost and E-rate program administrators have asked that schools give E-rate dollars back even after the money has long been spent. Use a filing cabinet, database, or consider using Funds For Learning's E-rate ManagerSM service. No matter what method you use, be sure to have a system in place for tracking your paperwork and other records.
  • Seek assistance. E-rate policy makers have acknowledged that the primary job of most E-rate coordinators is teacher, school administrator, and/or technology staff. Don't be afraid to seek assistance. The E-rate administrator offers a wealth of helpful information and guidance on E-rate's Web site. State E-rate coordinators exist to help answer your questions or point you in the right direction. (Contact information for each state coordinator is available at www.fundsforlearning.com.) Finally, for large funding applications, consider engaging a professional E-rate compliance firm.

Peter Kaplan is director of regulatory affairs for Funds For Learning, a professional E-rate compliance services firm.