The need for digital technology in the classroom has never been greater. As many schools have transitioned to a blended learning model, with some students attending virtually and others in person, teachers need technology that allows them to provide the same high-quality learning experience for all students, no matter where they are.

But finding funds for new classroom technology poses a challenge for school districts. Some relief came in 2020 with the CARES Act, which provided an initial $13 billion allotment to K-12 schools. Another federal funding package, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), dedicated an additional $54.3 billion to public schools, with a wide range of permissible uses.

Then came the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which set aside $122 billion to local education agencies — double the education funding provided by the CARES Act and CRSAA — to be used for the safe reopening of schools and addressing the impact of lost instructional time. Combining all three stimulus packages, as of February 2022, the total available funds for educational institutions amounts to about $190 billion.

If your district is in need of additional technologies for successful blended learning, here’s a closer look at your new options for funding and how to secure it.

ESSER funds and how to use them

The original CARES Act included an education stabilization fund called the Elementary and Secondary Education Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. 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. ESSER was also funded by the CRSAA Act and ARP Act.

The first iteration of ESSER was flexible, but the newest package is even more so. It includes provisions for ed tech, such as hardware and software to support blended classrooms or flipped classrooms, which use class time to focus on group discussion of reading done at home. Interactive whiteboards, also called electronic boards, can be used for teaching both in person and remotely.

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ESSER funds can also be used to address learning loss — especially for students considered at-risk — as well as supporting students’ social and emotional health, upgrading school facilities to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure and improving schools’ indoor air quality. The second round of ESSER funding is restricted to public K-12 schools and will be available through Sept. 30, 2022, while the third round of funding is available until September 2024.

K-12 districts have many needs to address, and while the current funding packages are several times larger than the original ESSER, the funds are still 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. You can use this tracker to see how much funding your state received, or you can contact your district to ask how much ESSER funding the district received and how much is set aside for each school. In the meantime, consider your district’s needs around blended 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 2020’s original ESSER. Follow your state’s prescribed format, which will likely include these basic components: 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 fielding these applications through an online platform.

2. Explain how your project fits the criteria

Study the list of allowed uses for ESSER funding, and clearly articulate how your project fits into one or more of the requirements. This is the ESSER listing for ed tech 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.”

Blended learning classroom technology may also relate to other priorities on the list, such as addressing the needs of lower-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 ed tech and software companies.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) recommends a three-tiered approach to budgeting for ed tech 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 for your classroom in 2022, create a detailed plan. Ask yourself: How will the solution be installed and carried out? If, for example, you plan to add digital whiteboards in the classroom, 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.

Learn more about why interactive learning matters and how prioritizing it engages students and improves outcomes in this free guide. 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.

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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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