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How to secure funding for hybrid classroom technologies

The need for new K-12 classroom technology has never been greater. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are now using a hybrid classroom model, with some students attending virtually and others in person. In this situation, teachers need technology tools that allow them to provide the same high-quality experience for students learning at home and in person.

Yet, finding funds for edtech purchases poses a challenge for school districts. Some relief came in 2020 through the CARES Act with an initial $13 billion allotment to K-12 schools. A new funding package from the federal government in December 2020 dedicated an additional $54.3 billion to public schools, with a wide range of permissible uses.

For districts in need of additional technologies to make hybrid classrooms successful, here’s a closer look at the new funding available and how to secure it:

ESSER funds and how to use them

The original CARES Act included an education stabilization fund called Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief (ESSER). ESSER is a pass-through funding opportunity, meaning the money flows from federal agencies to each state. Local education agencies (typically school districts) can then send grant applications to their state to request funding for projects that fall under ESSER’s permitted uses.

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The first iteration of ESSER was flexible, but the new package is even more so. It again includes provisions for edtech, such as hardware/software to support hybrid classrooms, and adds many other uses related to the pandemic. The main three additions in this round of funding are addressing learning loss among students — especially those considered at-risk, school facility repairs/improvements to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure, and projects to improve schools’ indoor air quality. This second round of ESSER funding is restricted to public K-12 schools and will be available through September 30, 2022.

K-12 districts have many needs in the wake of the pandemic, but this new funding package — while several times larger than the original ESSER — is limited. You should be prepared to apply for funding as soon as possible. It’s wise to stay up-to-date on your state’s progress in processing and distributing funds. In the meantime, consider your district’s needs around hybrid classroom technology.

Grant writing checklist

As you consider how to communicate your digital needs to your state’s board of education, these four essential steps will help you stay organized:

1. Follow the prescribed format

Ask colleagues in your district and beyond for examples of successful federal grants, especially those used to apply for funds from last year’s original ESSER. Follow your state’s prescribed format, which likely includes basic components such as a statement of need, your goals and objectives, your budget and timeline and, finally, how the funds will be used to address learning gaps caused by COVID-19 and school closures. Some states are using an online platform for districts’ grant applications.

2. Explain how your project fits the criteria

Study the list of permissible uses for ESSER funding, and articulate clearly how your project fits into one or more of the requirements. Here’s the listing for edtech purchases:

“Purchasing educational technology (hardware, software and connectivity) for students, that aids in the regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive or adaptive technology.”

Hybrid classroom technology purchases may also relate to other priorities on the list, such as addressing the needs of low-income students or planning for long-term school closures (including how to provide online learning). While there’s a lot of flexibility in how these funds can be used, try to tie your project to several items on the list of ESSER Fund Allowable Uses.

3. Include specifics on budget and timeline

State ESSER fund applications often ask for specific information about your proposed budget and timeline for using the funds. Make sure you know how much you plan to invest in such categories as equipment/hardware, software/licensing and remote learning. Creating an itemized budget may require some research and preliminary conversations with edtech and software companies.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recommends a three-tiered approach to budgeting for edtech investments — focusing on total cost of ownership (TCO), student outcomes and budget management and value of investment. Balancing these three priorities can help you make smarter IT decisions, especially while school technology needs are intensified by COVID-19.

4. Plan your implementation

Before you purchase new technology, create a detailed plan. Ask yourself: How will it be installed and carried out? Who will provide teacher training and technical support? What will be the benchmarks for measuring success?

Make sure you involve teachers and administrators in these discussions. Listen to their ideas and concerns, and check in regularly as the new technology is deployed.

Samsung’s unique portfolio of in-classroom technology can help bridge the digital divide once funding is secured. Whether it’s state-of-the-art whiteboards or interactive displays, the world of digital technology in the classroom is the next wave of classroom instruction. Is your district ready to take the next step?

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Jessica Leigh Brown

Jessica Leigh Brown is a freelance writer and former high school English teacher who covers the intersection of technology and education. Over the past decade, her work has appeared in EdSurge Higher Ed, Education Dive, EdTech Magazine, University Business, and District Administration.

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