The nation’s schools were the primary beneficiaries in late September as powerhouse funding sources from the public and private sectors doled out nearly $85 million in grant and loan awards. Hundreds of school districts and thousands of students will benefit from telecommunications, distance learning, and technology grants from more than 270 awards announced recently by the U.S. departments of education, commerce, and agriculture and by the AOL Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced $30 million in Technology Challenge Grants to support teacher training in the use of technology. The AOL Foundation made its first round of awards, nearly $400,000 in grants to 54 teacher teams for interactive technology projects.

The Department of Commerce announced awards through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The NTIA awards total nearly $40 million, with most awards going directly or indirectly to K-12 school districts. Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded its Distance Learning Grants. About 35 education organizations will benefit from the $16 million in USDA awards.

Department of Education

On Sept. 22, the Clinton administration announced that 20 school district partnerships in 17 states will be awarded $30 million in Technology Innovative Challenge Grants (TICG). The grants will help prepare new teachers and support existing ones to teach effectively using technology.

“School districts are forming partnerships with businesses and community organizations across the country to meet the challenge of bringing their schools and communities into the information age,” said President Clinton. “These Challenge grants will help schools put computers in classrooms and provide more training for teachers to use technology to improve their lesson plans. These grants are one of many efforts needed to ensure that our students are prepared for the challenges of the 21st century.”

According to ED, the grants are to serve as a catalyst for positive change for schools. The grants support educators, industry partners, communities, parents, and others who are using new technologies to help bring high-quality education to every classroom and neighborhood, ED explained.

The grants will range in size from $789,000 to $2 million a year for five years and will leverage the efforts of business and community partners by generating matching commitments valued at more than $90 million. Grant awardees will work with partners in 150 school districts, 100 businesses, and 80 colleges and universities, benefiting about 1 million students and providing additional training opportunities for thousands of teachers in these communities, according to ED.

The AOL Foundation

The AOL Foundation, America Online’s philanthropic organization, announced Sept. 14 that 54 teams of educators throughout the country have been awarded grants of up to $7,500 each. The awards are part of the Foundation’s Interactive Education Initiative (IEI), a new grant program designed to encourage innovative use of technology in K-12 learning environments.

“The Interactive Education Initiative provides seed money for educational innovation,” said Jim Kimsey, chairman of the AOL Foundation. “Tremendous resources have been spent to get interactive technology into schools, but there is still much to be done in exploring how to use this technology most effectively to enhance student learning.”

Here’s a sample of how the AOL Foundation-funded projects will explore innovative uses of technology in the classroom:

  • Creating an online multilingual library of books written by children around the world;
  • Pairing teens with senior citizens to develop a web site focusing on the long-term impact of life choices made during adolescence;
  • Creating a permanent record of a community’s experience with the civil rights movement that will be linked to a school web site;
  • Pairing at-risk students with university faculty and students to research and construct projects featured in an online science fair;
  • Teaching children about food and hunger issues around the world by using technology to gather data and conduct research; and
  • Using the internet to improve students’ understanding of a watershed project in an effort to foster responsible environmental behavior.
  • NTIA

    The Department of Commerce announced Sept. 29 $18.5 million in matching grants to 46 nonprofit organizations and state and local governments across the United States through its Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP). The grants will fund innovative uses of advanced networking technologies. The projects funded will improve delivery of social services, increase access to education, reduce the cost of health care, and enhance the capabilities of public safety officials, the Commerce Department said.

    TIIAP, which is administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), awards matching grants annually to nonprofit organizations and state, local, and tribal governments for innovative projects using information technologies.

    K-12 education will benefit from direct and indirect awards. The University of South Carolina, Aiken (USCA), for example, will establish the Rural Alliance for Teaching Enhancement (RATE), an interactive network to deliver training support to 14 school districts in rural, southwestern South Carolina. Project organizers hope to build a network that will greatly enhance efforts to recruit, retain, and rejuvenate teachers in the area’s rural schools, using a variety of technologies, including internet applications such as eMail, listservs, video conferencing, streaming multimedia, and instructional CD-ROMS.

    With its TIIAP award, the Franklin County (Va.) Public Schools will establish 15 sites to train adults in basic literacy and technology skills. Participants will learn how to use laptop computers and the internet to find employment opportunities online. They will also be able to check out laptop computers for education-related purposes. The focus is on preparing the adult community in Franklin County for the jobs of the 21st century.

    The TIIAP program was initiated in 1994. Since then, it has awarded $118 million in matching funds that has spurred nearly $280 million in total investments.

    NTIA also awarded $19.8 million in Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) grants. While most of the 115 PTFP grants are awarded to public radio and television stations to expand their services to the community, 12 awards went to assist in the construction of distance learning systems that will benefit K-12 schools.

    The biggest PTFP distance learning grant totals nearly $600,000. It went to the California State University-Fresno Foundation to activate a distance learning system interconnecting sites throughout Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare counties. Another distance learning grant of $55,000 went to the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board to plan how best to deliver instructional video programs and segments of programs to classrooms on demand. The programming would be sent to teachers and students in schools ranging from pre-K to 12th grade.

    Descriptions of the TIIAP and PTFP grants, along with contact information, are posted on NTIA’s web site.

    USDA Telecom Grants

    On Sept. 10, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced $16 million in federal telecommunications loans and grants to improve education and health services for 2.5 million rural Americans. The Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) initiative is part of the Clinton administration’s School Modernization program.

    “The telecommunications technology that brings the world to the most remote areas of the nation will now be more readily available for these students,” Glickman said. “Education programs are enriched and become more fun for students, advanced medical services become more available, and the quality of life for all Americans improves, making us a stronger, more united nation.”

    More than 380,000 rural students and 2.1 million patients of clinics or hospitals serving rural areas will benefit from new technology under the DLT program, according to the secretary.

    Glickman said the DLT program “works hand-in-glove with the eRate.” While the DLT program funds end-user equipment purchases, eRate discounts make monthly connection bills less expensive. eRate and DLT loans and grants work together, according to the USDA, to help create the on-ramps to the information superhighway for rural America.

    USDA funding will support 252 projects in 43 states and two US territories totaling $62.5 million in grants.

    Links:

    U.S. Department of Education
    http://www.ed.gov

    The AOL Foundation
    http://www.aol.com/corp/phil

    NTIA
    http://www.ntia.doc.gov/otiahome/tiiap/

    USDA
    http://www.usda.gov