Schools receive first notice of $148 million in eRate funds: As letters go out, applications pour in for 1999 program

Capping more than seven months of anticipation and frustration since the first eRate application window closed on April 15, the Schools and Libraries Corp. (SLC) issued its first two waves of funding commitment letters to about 6,300 schools and libraries–roughly 20 percent of applicants. The letters, which were sent Nov. 23 and Dec. 7, allocated more than $148 million in eRate funds.

“This is a big moment for all of us…,” said Kate Moore, SLC’s acting chief executive officer. “We’re seeing the real beginnings of the program now–it’s real, it’s happening, there’s a great need out there, and we’re moving to meet it.”

Vice President Al Gore, Education Secretary Richard Riley, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard celebrated the first wave of letters in a ceremony at a Washington, D.C., public library. Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who co-wrote along with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that created the eRate, also was in attendance.

“Today, we are taking steps that will forever change the lives of millions of children and change the way teachers teach and children learn,” Gore said, indicating that he felt “excitement blended with relief” that the program was finally on its way to issuing funds.

Since its inception last year, the eRate has been blasted by critics on several fronts. Though schools invested a great deal of time and money in applying last spring, not a single school had yet to receive a discount. Supporters hope the flow of commitment letters will silence the program’s critics.

Mark Root, manager of technology services for the Council of Great City Schools, told STFB the letters have restored faith in the program among the nation’s largest school districts. “While there was a period where there was a lot of discouragement, I think [the SLC is] back on track,” Root said.

As recently as a few months ago, “there was a lot of concern about the viability of the program,” Moore said. “Now, we have emerged…This program will be under continuous scrutiny. But I think the worst is hopefully behind us.”

The first two waves of letters, which came after a thorough audit of the SLC’s internal controls by independent auditors and the General Accounting Office, were issued to “priority one” applicants–those who requested discounts on telecommunications services or internet access only, as well as those who requested funding for internal connections and who qualify for a 90 percent discount.

In these waves, according to the SLC, one of every $4 in discounts go to the schools and libraries that need it most: those in which at least three-fourths of the student population is eligible for participation in the National School Lunch Program.

In addition, one-third of the dollars will go to applicants from rural areas; schools and libraries from all 50 states were represented. About 3 percent of the letters were flat-out rejections–in most cases, because applicants included extensive requests for ineligible services.

California schools are the big winners so far. The state’s schools and libraries netted more than $24 million in the first waves of letters. New York was next, with $10.6 million; then Michigan with $9.1 million, and Illinois with $8 million.

Decision letters included a Form 486 and a Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form. Form 486 must be completed and returned to the SLC to begin the discount process. For applicants who have already paid for any discounted services in full, the BEAR Form will initiate the reimbursement process.

Launch of second program year

As funding letters for the first year of the eRate were being sent, applications for the program’s second year were pouring in. The application window for the 1999-2000 eRate opened Dec. 1.

All K-12 schools, public or private, qualify for the program–which provides discounts of 20 to 90 percent on telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections–if they are nonprofit and do not have an endowment exceeding $50 million.

Services eligible for eRate discounts include the installation, maintenance, and operating costs of all commercially available telecommunications systems, internet access (including communications links to internet service providers and eMail), and internal connections (including routers, hubs, and network file servers).

Services and products that aren’t covered include staff development, voice mail, fax machines, modems, electrical upgrades, building infrastructure, and computers or software. However, computers used solely as switches or file servers, and the software necessary to operate them, are eligible for discounts.

Applying for the eRate is a three-step process. First, you must submit a Form 470, which describes the eligible services you intend to purchase. Your Form 470 is then posted to the SLC’s web site for 28 days so vendors can bid for your services.

Once you’ve signed a contract (or once the 28-day posting period is over, for services already under contract), you must file a Form 471, which details the services you’re applying for discounts on. New this year: You can file Form 471 online. The online form includes pop-up help screens to walk you through the application process.

Finally, after you get your funding commitment letter, you must file a Form 486 to confirm that contracted services have begun. This lets the SLC know to begin issuing funds to your vendors, who in turn pass along discounts to you in the form of a check or credit.

The length of the filing window for the 1999-2000 program year is 100 days. For your application to be considered with the others as if they arrived on the same day, you need to file a Form 471 on or before March 11, 1999–which means you should file your Forms 470 on or before Feb. 11, 1999, to allow for the 28-day posting period.

In theory, up to $2.25 billion in funding is available each year. But pressure from some members of Congress and from telecommunications companies–which subsidize the eRate through fees collected by the FCC–caused the agency to cut funding to $1.3 billion (with a six-month extension providing an additional $600 million) during the first program year.

In the same action, the FCC changed the funding priority in mid-program. Requests for discounts on telecommunications services and internet access now are approved first, and any money left in the fund is distributed to schools and libraries for their internal wiring projects according to need–so a school or district qualifying for an 80 percent discount receives priority over a 70 percent school, and so on.

If you’re applying for funding during the 1999-2000 program year, you’ll want to consider the FCC’s new rules of priority as you prepare your application. Unfortunately, the FCC is not expected to set next year’s funding level until May 1 (well after you’ve applied), making it difficult to plan your eRate strategy.

John Bailey, director of the Office of Educational Technology for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, recommends that you approach the eRate as “a supplemental source of funding” which, if approved, you can reinvest to expand your technology initiatives.

Where to look for help

Forms and their instructions can be obtained from the SLC’s web site or via the agency’s fax on demand service at (800) 959-0733. The agency’s client service bureau can be reached any of the following ways:

Phone: (888) 203-8100

Fax: (888) 276-8736


In addition, eSchool News publishes a monthly newsletter called eRate Update, filled with the latest news, policy changes, expert advice, and creative strategies for securing your full share of eRate discounts. Call (888) 394-2551 or visit eSchool News Online to request a free trial issue.


New York City schools solicit technology gifts on the web: Innovative site invites donations from businesses, private citizens

The New York City school system is taking a unique approach to fundraising this holiday season. The city is using a new web site to solicit a “wish list” of donations via the internet–and nearly 70 percent of the city’s schools are using the service to ask for computers, network devices, and technology assistance.

The Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning (PENCIL) Resource Bank is a warehouse of donation needs for the city’s 1,136 public schools. The database was created a year ago when PENCIL discovered that many of the schools’ needs–supplies, equipment, and arts and crafts materials–were readily available in storage in businesses and homes throughout the city.

Through the web site’s search page, individuals and corporations can identify schools for their donations by selecting location, grade level, and/or the kind of item they’re looking to donate. Donors may also select specific schools by name.

According to Jennifer Eason, director of policy and development, the Resource Bank is intended to provide a “streamlined, interactive” way for corporations and individuals to make exactly the contributions the city’s schools need.

Looking for computers

“I’d say our top items are computers,” Eason said.

This Christmas, more than 700 of the registered 1,100 schools are asking for technology products, including Macs and PCs, keyboard, monitors, modems, laser printers, and internet access. Other oft-requested items include photocopiers, microscopes, and technical assistance.

Some schools are asking for more sophisticated equipment: wireless mikes and sound systems, scanners, and photo enlargers. One school even requested “support for TV media studio.” Schools are also looking for technical assistance to repair and update computers, wire schools, and install and set up networks.

Big-ticket technology items are popular requests, Eason said, because New York City teachers are eager for the relief from overcrowded classrooms that computers and telecommunication technologies can provide.

Since the organization began acting as a clearinghouse for donations on the internet, it has found homes in public schools for 331 computers, three laptops, two microscopes, and one copier. Recently, the organization received a generous contribution from comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who came to PENCIL with 25 iMac computers he wanted to contribute to the school system, said Eason.

‘Overwhelmed’ by need

Since its online launch in the fall of 1998, the Resource Bank has generated $500,000 worth of supplies and materials from private-sector individuals and corporations for the New York City schools. Donations have included such diverse items as paint brushes (73,344), crayons (10,672), jump ropes (15), desks (14), and butcher block paper (11 rolls).

The Resource Bank web site was created to help residents who are looking to make donations to schools but feel “overwhelmed” by the need, according to Eason.

Business and community members who were participating in the organization’s flagship “Principals for a Day” project would often ask PENCIL for help in locating schools for donations.

“They would come to us and say, ‘We have two thousand scissors we’ll never use,'” but had no way of identifying who needed the supplies, said Eason. “We thought, what a wonderful way to use the internet.”

Since the project was launched in 1994, more than 1,000 people each year have participated in Principals for a Day (PFAD), which places community members in schools. Guest “principals” have included business owners, executives, professionals, celebrities such as Tipper Gore, Jane Pauley, Bill Cosby, and Michael Douglas, and hundreds of others from the private and public sectors of each borough.

The non-profit PENCIL was created in 1995 to sustain PFAD after it was established by Ramon Cortines, then chancellor of the New York City schools. The mission of the organization is to provide real solutions to the many challenges facing New York City’s 1.1 million public school students. PENCIL and its programs have leveraged the involvement of thousands of individuals and generated millions of dollars in funds and resources to the city’s public schools.


Grants Opportunities, Awards and Deadlines


Public Telecommunications Facilities Program

This program of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) assists, through matching grants, in the planning and construction of public telecommunications facilities. The program has a Distance Learning category open to public school systems. Last year, NTIA awarded nearly $4 million to 12 distance learning projects. Awards ranged from $55,452 to $594,936.

Deadline: Jan. 14

(202) 482-5802

Growth Initiatives for Teachers (GIFT)

GIFT is a grant program for public and private school math and science teachers, grades 7-12, in 35 eligible states and the District of Columbia. Each year, the GTE Foundation awards $12,000 GIFT grants to 60 teams consisting of one math and one science teacher from the same school who plan to integrate the two subjects in their school’s curriculum through the use of technology. Winning teams receive $7,000 for a school enrichment project and $5,000 toward professional development activities.

Deadline: Jan. 15

(800) 315-5010

Connections to the Internet grants

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards these two-year grants of approximately $15,000 to K-12 schools, libraries, and museums that support innovative technologies for internet access. Only highly innovative approaches that can accelerate network development at similar institutions will be considered for funding. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact an NSF program officer to discuss their proposal to see if it falls within the current scope of the program.

Deadline: Jan. 31

(703) 306-1949


Interactive Education Grants

The AOL Foundation’s Interactive Education Grants program is open to K-12 teachers, education leaders, parents, and other community leaders. Grants of up to $7,500 will be awarded to those who develop innovative and creative ways to enhance student learning through the online medium. Special emphasis will be placed on proposals that reach socio-economically disadvantaged children and communities. Last year’s program awarded $376,000 to 54 recipients in 23 states (out of 600 applicants). For more information, contact Jill Stephens, Corporate Outreach Director or eMail

Deadline: Feb. 1

(703) 265-1342


Program for Gender Equity in Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology (SMET)

This NSF grant promotes the development of instructional materials, teaching methods, and student enrichment resources to raise interest, retention, and achievement of girls and women in SMET education. About $4 million in funds are available for new projects in 1999. K-12 districts are eligible to apply in two categories: Large Collaborative Projects, which awards up to $300,000 per year for up to 3 years; and Planning Grants, which offers up to $30,000 to prepare a proposal for next year’s Large Collaborative Projects.

Deadline: Feb. 1

(703) 306-1637


Teaching with Computer


This grant program from Compaq Computer Corp. awards a Compaq computer to two teachers from each state and the District of Columbia. Applicants must submit a plan for using the computer to support an innovative and exemplary ongoing classroom project.

Deadline: Feb. 15

(800) 88-TEACH



21st Century Community Learning Centers

This $100 million U.S. Department of Education program is open to rural and inner-city public schools and consortia to help them plan, implement, or expand after-hours, in-school projects that benefit the educational, social, cultural, and recreational needs of the community. Funds can be used to purchase technology, since technology-based learning is among the list of supported activities. About 300 grants of between $35,000 and $2 million will be awarded, with the average grant estimated at $400,000. The application package and examples of successful 1998 applications are available online. For further information, contact Amanda Clyburn at (202) 219-2180 or Steve Balkcom at (202) 219-2089.

Deadline: March 1





Ameritech donated $3.2 million to K-12 schools in 1997. Through its SuperSchool program, the company supports projects that help school leaders learn how to use technology in their schools. It also funds alliances among schools so they may benefit from telecommunications technologies they otherwise couldn’t afford. Ameritech awards are limited to schools in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

(312) 750-5037.


AT&T Learning Network Grants

The AT&T Foundation supports school programs that use technology to enhance teaching and learning. Grants are available to all accredited public and private elementary and secondary schools. The grants must fund the use and application of technology, not the equipment and infrastructure necessary to support its use. AT&T is interested in projects that involve family involvement, professional development, lifelong learning, and community collaboration. The AT&T Foundation currently does not accept unsolicited proposals, but you are invited to submit a brief, one-page letter of interest stating your request. For more information, contact Marilyn Reznick at

(212) 387-6555


Digital Corporate Contributions Program

Digital Equipment Corporation seeks to promote academic excellence through the accessibility of technology in the classroom. Digital provides cash or equipment grants to schools that can demonstrate a special need or an innovative use for the assistance. You are encouraged to call the Corporate Contributions office to discuss your project or contact the office by eMail,

(508) 493-6550


Eaton Corporation Foundation

The Eaton Corporation Foundation funds projects that prepare minority youth for employment, particularly those which focus on math, science, and technology careers. Grants range from $1,000 to $25,000, with over $1 million awarded last year. Schools and non-profits are eligible, but the foundation restricts its giving to the 30 states with company operations. Call for application guidelines.

(216) 523-5000

Great Asante Grant Program

This is a relatively new program that awards free computer networks to schools. Grants worth up to $14,000 provide all the hardware and software necessary to network 50 school computers. Application guidelines are available at the web site.

JDL Technologies (800) 535-3969

Asante (408) 435-8401


Hewlett-Packard Grants

Hewlett-Packard makes cash or equipment donations for model programs supporting national K-12 math and science initiatives. HP’s Contributions Board makes quarterly funding decisions. Preference is given to projects that are national in scope, can be replicated nationally, or are located in communities where HP has a corporate facility. Applicants must submit a proposal summary form (available on the web site) and 5-page narrative.

(415) 857-5197


Intel Foundation

Intel funds programs that advance math, science, or technology education, promote science careers among women and underrepresented minorities, or increase public understanding of technology and its impact. National grants apply to nationwide projects or pilots for national programs. Community grants apply to projects located in a community where Intel has a major facility: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, or Washington. An application is available at the web site.


Mars Foundation

The Mars Foundation offers a variety of grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 for K-12 curriculum development, teacher professional development, computer and equipment acquisitions, and capital building projects. For additional information, write to Sue Martin, Mars Foundation, 6885 Elm Street, McLean, VA 22101.

Motorola Foundation

Grants from $1,000 to $10,000 that focus on enhancing math, science, and technology opportunities for minorities and the economically disadvantaged are available from the Motorola Foundation. Contact: Program Manager, Motorola Foundation, 1303 East Algonquin Road, Schaumburg, IL 60196.

(708) 576-6200

Pfizer Education Initiative

Although the Pfizer Foundation is primarily concerned with health care, you might be able to slip in through an education program called “Utilizing New Technology.” Grants of up to $10,000 are given for teacher training or the application of technology in K-12 math and science classrooms. Applications may be submitted anytime.

Sprint Foundation

Don Forsythe, a Sprint Foundation program officer, said a limited number of grants would be available for projects in areas with a significant employee presence, primarily Kansas City, Atlanta, Dallas, and Sacramento. The Sprint Foundation supports projects that foster school reform through the use of new technologies and communications media and through fresh approaches to the enhancement of teachers’ skills. Schools and other education-related non-profit agencies can apply for grants totaling about $500,000 per year. Call to talk to a program officer first, or check out Sprint’s web site for application guidelines.

(913) 624-3343


Computers 4 Kids

Computers 4 Kids Inc., a national nonprofit organization, accepts and refurbishes donated computer equipment, then places it in schools with limited resources. Grant requests are reviewed quarterly. They must include your plans for using the equipment and a demonstration of your need. You can find more information and an application form on the Computers 4 Kids web site.

Computers for Learning

This is a federal program designed to donate surplus government computer equipment to schools and educational nonprofit organizations, giving special consideration to those most in need. You can register your school at the Computers for Learning web site.

Detwiler Foundation

Since its inception in 1991, the Detwiler Foundation has helped place more than 37,000 computers into California schools. The foundation has recently expanded its operation to include partnerships with thirteen other states. For more information, contact Jerry Grayson at (800) 939-6000, ext. 18.

Gifts in Kind International

Through its “Recycle Technology” program, Gifts in Kind International expects to distribute over 20,000 computers to schools and charities in the next five years.

(703) 836-2121

National Cristina Foundation

The goal of the Cristina Foundation is to ensure access to computer technology for people with disabilities and at-risk or economically disadvantaged students. The foundation supports its goal by awarding donated equipment to deserving schools and organizations.

(800) 274-7846


This technology nonprofit serves children and their families through schools. PC Kids will donate $300,000 worth of Microsoft software and $100,000 of its own instructional software to schools which host the organization’s Technology Showcase Nights program.

(978) 486-8400

$60 million from U.S. Department of Education

For the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which enables schools to create or expand safe, productive after-school programs for children, $60 million to 183 communities in 45 states. The grants range in size from $36,000 to $2.5 million per year for up to three years. Schools can use the money to establish, among other things, after-school technology education programs in their communities. See the “Grant Opportunities” section for information on the next round of applications.



$3.5 million from CharitaBulls

To fund an after-school program called Bulls Scholars, $3.5 million over three years to the Children First Fund, the foundation of the Chicago Public Schools. The grant will pay for teacher’s salaries, materials, and five computers per middle school. CharitaBulls is the philanthropic arm of the Chicago Bulls basketball team.

(312) 455-4000


$1.5 million from AT&T/Annenberg Foundation

For the South Florida Annenberg Challenge’s Educational Technology initiative, $1.5 million to South Florida public schools. AT&T contributed $500,000 to the initiative, and the Annenberg Foundation matched the donation 2 to 1. The Annenberg Foundation has put up $33 million for the program, but participating school systems in Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach counties and the city of Miami must raise the remainder through public and private contributions by Jan. 2000 or risk losing the funds.

(954) 468-7927


$500,000 in equipment from Imation Corp.

To reinforce the importance of educational technology and assist schools with their technology needs, Imation has donated 5,000 SuperDisk Parallel Port drives to schools and nonprofits across the U.S. Ventura County Schools in California, for example, received 500 drives at a total value of $50,000. The drives enable users to save up to 120 MB of information on a SuperDisk diskette–about 80 times the storage capacity of a standard floppy–while also allowing use of traditional disks.

(888) 466-3456

$220,000 from Missouri Department of Education

For the purchase of internet filtering software, $220,000 to 218 school districts. The grants range in size from $500 to $3,000. Originally, $180,000 was set aside by the state legislature, but because of overwhelming demand from the state’s schools, an additional $40,000 in funding was added from other sources so 50 districts that would have been shut out of the program could participate.

(573) 751-9094


$150,000 from National Science


To assess the professional development needs of teachers, review learning resources, and develop plans for improving high school math and technology programs, a $150,000 planning grant to the D.C. Public Schools.

(703) 306-1234

$100,000 from Schools of the 21st


To establish a model for school reform, $100,000 to a “constellation” of schools around Detroit’s Southeastern High School. The grant will help the schools identify common needs, analyze data, and form a plan for working together. Schools of the 21st Century, a public-private education reform group, was formed in 1996 with a $60 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation to improve Detroit schools.

(313) 871-3515


Funder Profiles: An insider’s guide to understanding this month’s grant opportunities

Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP)

Dennis R. Connors, Director

Office of Telecommunications and

Information Applications

NTIA, U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave., N.W., Room 4625

Washington, DC 20230

phone: (202) 482-5802

fax: (202) 482-2156



Through matching grants, PTFP supports the planning and construction of public telecommunications facilities in order to: (1) extend the delivery of services to as many people as possible by the most cost-effective means, including broadcast and nonbroadcast technologies; (2) increase services available to, operated by, and controlled by minorities and women; and (3) strengthen the capability of existing public TV and radio stations to provide services to the public.

PTFP’s Distance Learning category is open to public school systems and not-for-profit private schools. Last year’s winners included St. Clair County Intermediate School District in Michigan, which was given $430,000 to purchase equipment for video classrooms in 11 schools, a vocational education center, and a local community college; and Montrose School District in South Dakota, which received $565,000 to establish a distance learning system connecting 10 high schools in extremely rural areas of the state.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is often associated with funding rural projects, “rural is not a limiting factor to the grant,” according to program officer Charles Estep.

PTFP projects will receive favorable consideration, though, if they promise to accomplish one or more of the following objectives:

(1) reach a large number of potential students, especially those in remote isolated areas, or reach a high number of potential beneficiaries (an example of the latter might be the activation of a series of satellite transmit earth stations [uplinks] to form the nucleus of a far-ranging course distribution system);

(2) reach students who clearly would never receive the coursework offered without the project;

(3) meet some special need; e.g., a state mandate to raise substantially the educational achievement level of all students, including those in isolated areas; and

(4) assist the nation’s international competitiveness.

NTIA also looks favorably on the participation of minorities and women in offering instructional programming or in receiving it.

PTFP grants generally support half of a project’s total cost. The criteria for evaluation of a project are as follows:

Project objectives (how well you can demonstrate that your project meets the above purpose): one-third

Urgency (how well you can demonstrate a need for your project): one-third

Technical qualifications (how well you can document that the equipment you’ve requested best fulfills the project’s needs): one-third

In addition, NTIA will request proof that you have enough qualified personnel to operate and maintain the project, that you’ll be providing services of professional quality, and that you’ll be able to fund your share of the project.

Connie Colwill, superintendent of Montrose School District, told STFB she believes her district benefitted from having a female superintendent as an applicant last year. Montrose served as the fiscal agent for the project in a consortium with nine other districts.

The grant funded $565,000 of the $1,050,000 cost to install distance learning labs in the districts’ high schools, including two-way interactive video and audio transmitted over a T1 line. The group hired an engineering firm to design the system, but the consulting fee was not eligible for support, Colwill said.

Colwill’s tip: Include plenty of documentation to support your proposal. “Some other schools from South Dakota had put in a similar system last year, and we based the price of our equipment on their system’s cost,” Colwill said. “[NTIA] thought the money we would be spending was too high, but we had the figures to back up our request.”

Letters of support from the community also helped demonstrate a need for the project, Colwill said, which added credibility to the criterion of “urgency.”

Division of Human Resource Development, Room 815

Directorate for Education and Human Resources

National Science Foundation

4201 Wilson Blvd.

Arlington, VA 22230

phone: (703) 306-1637


This program’s goal is to change the factors that have discouraged an early and continuing interest in science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) among girls and women. It funds large projects with the potential for significant impact on developing the interest, knowledge, and involvement of girls and young women in these fields.

Only K-12 school districts–not individual schools–are eligible to apply, though individual schools may be included as collaborators in a project.

Large Collaborative Projects must build on existing research about gender iniquities; be grounded in strong SMET content; involve multiple institutions and target multiple populations; and include a solid evaluation process. The target populations may be a mix of students, teachers, counselors, parents, community leaders, administrators, teacher-educators, faculty, student and adult mentors, and others.

When drafting your proposal, you should think in terms of the impact your project will have on the field, NSF advises. Impact is a big factor in the review and rating of proposals.

If you’re not ready to apply for a Large Collaborative Project grant, you might want to apply for a Planning Grant: up to $30,000 to plan a proposal for next year’s competition.

Last year’s grants included $99,810 over two years to Washington Elementary School District of Phoenix, Ariz., for a mentoring and career development program for eighth-grade girls in engineering; and $886,650 over three years to Sweetwater Union High School District of Chula Vista, Calif., for projects to help young women prepare for careers in science or technology.

Sweetwater’s project involves a collaboration with twenty university, business, and community partners. It targets underrepresented middle school girls, 80 percent of whom are ethnic minorities.

The project includes four major elements: (1) Comprehensive professional development for the district’s counselors and science, math, and technology teachers; (2) intensive services for middle school girls, including extra counseling, mentoring, science/ math/ technology clubs, hands-on math and science activities, a single-gender math/ science/ technology summer “camp,” and parent participation events; (3) teacher development of program curriculum and products; and (4) articulation, integration, and dissemination among a wide array of project partners.

Sweetwater’s project is guided by three major objectives: (1) Increasing the number of young women accessing rigorous science, math, technology and engineering-related learning; (2) improving the achievement of girls in higher levels of science, math and technology; and (3) enhancing equity for girls by promoting systemic change in partnership with educators, families, and community members.


Funding Toolbox: The real work begins after you’ve been fundedafter you’ve been funded

Nothing can compare to the euphoria you feel when you receive the phone call or the official letter notifying you that your proposal is being funded. OK, this might be a slight exaggeration–but if you’re like me, you spend a day or two, or perhaps a week or two with your head in the clouds beaming with pride, knowing that your proposal impressed the readers.

Reality soon sets in….Oh yes, this now means that you will have to carry out that project you outlined in the proposal, and you’ll have forms to fill out and submit–small, but highly significant details you may have forgotten in your excitement.

It is not unusual for projects to be funded at a lesser amount than requested, and often, this begins the grants administration process after you are notified of funding. You will certainly have to revise the budget if you are receiving less than you asked for, but in addition, you will have to take a close look at the activities you proposed and the associated costs.

What activities might have to be deleted from the project? Can you secure other sources of funding for those activities? Is your district willing to underwrite the cost of some or all of the unfunded activities? This first step might involve some honest, serious discussions with the funding source about the needed revisions to the project and the budget.

In most cases, these changes can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. If you can’t reach a compromise, you might have to make the serious decision to decline the funding. This is tough to do; but in the long run, it might be the wisest thing for you to do.

I know some folks who forged ahead, determined to do everything they originally proposed for far less money, only to have the project turn into a major source of stress and frustration and, in some respects, a dismal failure. These same folks have assured me that they will never make that mistake again!

After you’ve decided on acceptable revisions, it’s wise to review the time line you proposed to see when you planned to accomplish the activities. This will be your guide over the life of the project to keep you on track. As you proceed, you might find the time line needs to be revised, so be sure to keep it in plain view at all times.

The major role of grants administration is to maintain the proper documentation required for the project and to make sure all required reports and documents are submitted to the funding source in a timely manner.

In most cases, you’ll be required to file both fiscal and programmatic reports to the funding source monthly, quarterly, twice per year, or at the end of the project. Usually, information about these filing requirements can be found in the Request for Proposal. I have seen some RFPs that have included copies of the required paperwork so you know exactly what you will be expected to submit if you receive funding.

An excellent resource about program evaluation is a book by Jacqueline Ferguson titled The Grantseeker’s Guide to Project Evaluation, available from Aspen Publishers (formerly Capitol Publications), (703) 683-4100. The book contains a chapter on how to manage an evaluation and one on writing evaluation reports. Ferguson has also written The Grants Management Kit, a practical publication that includes templates, forms, checklists, and outlines for each stage of grants administration. This is also available from Aspen.

I’ve been asked if it’s better to apprise a funding source of programmatic problems immediately, or wait until the final project report and then make a list of reasons certain goals and objectives were not met. Remember this: As you are administering a grant, you are simultaneously developing and nurturing a relationship with the funder.

All the “how-to-have-a-successful-relationship” books I’ve ever read emphasize honesty and communication. Well, the same rules apply to your relationships with funders. Advise them as soon as possible when problems arise, brainstorm possible ways to solve these new problems, and be sure to document this on your reports.

When you approach a funder for continuation of funding, you will be remembered as the grantee who stayed in touch, who kept staff abreast of what was occurring, and who didn’t spring any last-minute surprises.

The paperwork required to manage a grant can be extremely time-consuming and cumbersome–but necessary.

Now, there is hope on the horizon. A marriage of technology and grants administration might be in our not-too-distant future. A new newsletter by the Thompson Publishing Group Inc., Electronic Grants Management Report, covers the latest developments in the brand new field of electronic grants management. For more information about Electronic Grants Management Report, call (800) 677-3789.

Since 1994, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been using FastLane, an internet-based interface for processing, storing, and printing grant transactions electronically. Although voluntary since 1994, NSF plans to make the use of FastLane mandatory for certain grant business by October 1999.

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act (S. 2107), currently under review, would require federal agencies to make electronic versions of their forms available and allow people to submit the electronic forms with digital signatures. Proponents of the bill say this would streamline the federal grants process and provide time and cost savings to grantees.

A final word about grants administration. Be sure to review the RFP carefully in advance of submitting your proposal to gain an understanding of the reporting requirements once funding is received. Nothing can diminish that “we-got-the-grant” euphoria quicker than a thick, totally-unexpected packet of reporting forms that arrives shortly after the great news that you’re getting funded.


Exclusive Report: Arkansas probes superintendent’s computer sales to own district

A state prosecutor is investigating more than $400,000 in purchases of computers and technology services by the Huntsville, Ark., School District. The probe began after state auditors reported that the company selling the hardware and services to the 2,000-student Madison County district had been set up by Huntsville’s superintendent and a former administrative aide.

Investigators also are looking into a district-established payroll-deduction program that allowed teachers to make personal purchases of computers from the superintendent’s company and into whether the school district paid for equipment that area businesses intended to donate to the schools.

In an exclusive interview, state Prosecutor Terry Jones told eSchool News that Huntsville Supt. John Bass and his former administrative assistant, John Harris, might have violated an Arkansas statute forbidding “self-dealing,” that they could be subject to a $500 fine, and might have to repay any profits the company made on the school sales.

At the request of his school board, Bass has taken a leave of absence.

“Inherent conflict”

A routine audit of the Madison County school system turned up purchases from a company reportedly set up by Bass and his aide. Jones described the situation as creating “an inherent conflict.”

In a report filed on Aug. 6 with the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, legislative auditor Charles Robinson recommended further investigation.

According to the auditor’s report, Bass and his aide established Academic Computer Systems Inc. on May 30, 1997. During the next month, the company reportedly sold the Huntsville schools $4,650.97 in services. During the following fiscal year– ending June 30, 1998–the school district bought another $416,493.89 worth of computer systems and services

from the superintendent’s company, the auditor’s report said.

The purchases, said deputy legislative auditor William Baum, seemed to violate the state’s “self-dealing” laws. An Arkansas statute prohibits school superintendents or their employees from “receiving compensation for recommending or procuring the use of any school apparatus in any public school.” eSchool News has learned the prosecutor’s office also is looking into whether the district purchased computers that area businesses had intended as donations to the schools. According to Jones, investigators are trying to determine if $50,000 worth of computers earmarked as contributions to the school system were the same machines a private company allegedly sold to the schools.

The Madison County Telephone Co. confirmed that it donated “thousands of dollars” in equipment and manpower to wire all the classrooms in Huntsville. A spokesman for the company said he had not been contacted about possible misuse charges. He would not comment on the matter, he said, except to say his company donated wiring equipment, not computers.

Payroll deductions

Another potential violation cited by the auditor’s report involves computer sales to Huntsville teachers. The district reportedly made payroll deductions that allowed teachers to buy computers from the superintendent’s company, an action that might have violated the Arkansas laws governing disbursements from the Teacher Salary Funds. According to Jones, the most serious question involves any profit that might have resulted from self-dealing. If Bass’ company profited from the sales of the equipment to the district, then the superintendent and other company officials could be forced to reimburse the schools for any expenditures that exceeded the actual cost of the equipment.

“Whatever profits were made from sales to schools would go back to [school district] coffers,” Jones said. “One has to determine if the transaction was good for schools or bad for schools.” But that determination could be expensive to make, Jones told eSchool News. It would require the use of outside “forensic auditors” who specialize in reviewing accounting records for fraud and misuse of funds, weighing the actual cost of the equipment against what the district paid for it. And it’s not likely that Madison County could afford such services, Jones said. “That’s the hard part for us,” he said. The case was scheduled to be presented to an audit subcommittee Thursday, Nov. 19, but was deferred until the subcommittee’s Dec. 10 meeting, at the request of Bass and his attorney, Baum said.

The superintendent reportedly wanted time to consult with his lawyer and to respond to the audit in writing. Bass’ attorney, Jim Rose, said he has no problem with the audit finding, according to the Associated Press, but does protest the wording of the finding. He has asked that the report’s language be modified “to soften the blow.” “They wanted to say no money was missing,” Robinson told reporters, “but, obviously, I’m not going to say that.”

The school district confirmed that Bass had taken an “administrative leave,” but eSchool News’ requests for interviews with Bass or the district’s interim superintendent went unanswered.


Schools receive notice of $148 million in eRate funds

Capping more than seven months of anticipation and frustration since the eRate application window closed on April 15, the Schools and Libraries Corp. (SLC) issued its first two waves of funding commitment letters to about 6,300 schools and libraries–roughly 20 percent of applicants. The letters, which were sent Nov. 23 and Dec. 7, allocated more than $148 million in eRate funds.

“This is a big moment for all of us,” said Kate Moore, SLC’s acting chief executive officer. “We’re seeing the real beginnings of the program now–it’s real, it’s happening, there’s a great need out there, and we’re moving to meet it.”

Vice President Al Gore, Education Secretary Richard Riley, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard celebrated the first wave of letters in a ceremony at a Washington, D.C., public library. Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who co-wrote with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the provision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that created the eRate–also was in attendance.

“Today, we are taking steps that will forever change the lives of millions of children and change the way teachers teach and children learn,” Gore said, indicating that he felt “excitement blended with relief” that the program was finally on its way to issuing funds.

Since its inception in late 1997, the eRate has been blasted by critics on several fronts. Though schools invested a great deal of time and money in applying last spring, not a single school had yet to receive a discount. Supporters hope the flow of commitment letters will silence the program’s critics.

“Our perseverance and the perseverance of the eRate supporters, has paid off,” Snowe said. “And the students of America are the real winners.”

First-wave funding details

The first two waves of letters, which came after a thorough audit of the SLC’s internal controls by independent auditors and the General Accounting Office, were issued to “priority one” applicants–those who requested discounts on telecommunications services or internet access only, as well as those who requested funding for internal connections and who qualify for a 90-percent discount.

In these waves, according to the SLC, one of every $4 in discounts will go to the schools and libraries that need it most–those in which at least three-fourths of the student population is eligible for participation in the National School Lunch Program.

In addition, one-third of the dollars will go to applicants from rural areas; schools and libraries from all 50 states were represented. About 3 percent of the letters were flat-out rejections–in most cases, because applicants included extensive requests for ineligible services.

California schools were the big winners so far. The state’s schools and libraries netted more than $24 million in the first waves of discount decisions. New York was next, with $10.6 million, then Michigan with $9.1 million, and Illinois with $8 million.

Decision letters included a Form 486 and a Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form. Form 486 must be completed and returned to the SLC to begin the discount process. For applicants who have already paid for any discounted services in full, the BEAR Form will initiate the reimbursement process.

The SLC plans to issue at least four waves of funding commitment letters. The last wave is not expected until sometime in January.

Exactly when a school or library gets its letter depends on three factors: (1) the funding priorities set by the FCC; (2) the date the application was successfully entered into the SLC’s database; and (3) the completion of all SLC decisions on the application, so that a complete response can be provided in a single letter.

The SLC acknowledges that most schools and libraries did not know the status of their 1998 eRate application before the window for the 1999-2000 cycle opened Dec. 1, making it difficult to plan for next year’s program. At press time, the corporation was considering extending the window–during which time all applications received would be treated as if they arrived on the same day–beyond Feb. 19, but no decision had yet been made.

While the FCC determines the fund level each year, the annual cap on the eRate is $2.25 billion. Schools, both public and private, and all public libraries can apply for discounts ranging from 20 percent to 90 percent on telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections.

Schools and Libraries Corp.

Federal Communications Commission

General Accounting Office


Realtors’ school-rating web service sells some schools short: Chicago schools and Realtors ‘livid’ about mix-up

A feature purporting to rate schools from “best” to “poor” on a National Association of Realtors (NAR) web site visited by some 12 million prospective home buyers a year contained a “systematic mathematical error,” the web operators have acknowledged. The error is known to have impugned the quality of school districts in suburban Chicago, but it is unclear whether school systems elsewhere have been similarly affected.

Because the perceived quality of schools in a community has a significant impact on home sales and property values, the web site errors have outraged some Chicago-area Realtors and caused grave concerns among educators in several Chicago suburbs.

The web site, which NAR says is visited by about 30 percent of those buying homes nationwide, rated some Chicago-area school systems as “average” or “poor,” even though they deserved high ratings based on the criteria that were supposed to be used, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Such mistakes can have a devastating effect on local property markets, as school data are a key factor in many people’s decisions on where to buy a home, local real estate agents said.

The site’s operator, RealSelect Inc., acknowledged the mistakes and blamed them on “2001 Beyond,” the third-party provider who provided the data.

David Rosenblatt, vice president of RealSelect, told eSchool News the error occurred within a test site that was on the web for the express purpose of getting feedback from users.

“That information was up for a total of four days,” Rosenblatt said. “From the time we found out to the time it was corrected, only 24 hours had elapsed.”

With 95 percent of the available U.S. homes for sale on its site, is the largest real estate site in the country, according to Rosenblatt.

“Because of our role, we take the information on our site very seriously,” he said. “Ultimately, having the right information about schools is going to help our customers. We’re looking forward to partnering with the educational community” to make that happen.

The web site does indicate that the area containing the school-rating service is “experimental.” But that has not been sufficient to assuage educators’ concerns.

Evanston Township High School was one school initially rated “poor.” Kathy Miehls, director of public relations for the school, said school officials and local Realtors were furious about the mistake, according to AP.

“It’s pretty nasty to experiment with a school’s reputation,” said Miehls.

One local real estate agency, Coldwell Banker, is so angry about the mistake, said Miehls, that it is refusing to pay NAR’s annual dues.

Find a neighborhood

The feature in which the erroneous ratings were listed is called “Find a Neighborhood.” It’s been on the web site since October. The feature allows buyers to list such preferences as the quality of schools, income levels, crime rates, cultural amenities, and the average age of residents. The site then uses statistical criteria to identify a community that roughly matches the buyers’ preferences. Buyers can also request ratings for a particular zip code.

School systems are rated as “best,” “better,” “average,” “fair,” and “poor.” The scoring is a product of weighted averages of SAT and ACT results, the percentage of college-bound students and national merit finalists, and spending per student. The data are provided by a group called “2001 Beyond.”

As of mid-December, the web site contained a disclaimer, which reads in part:

“School data provided by 2001 Beyond. Information displayed is purely statistical. It is not guaranteed and should be independently verified for accuracy.”

2001 Beyond provides real estate agents and their customers with access to “The School Profiler,” a database of more 32,000 private and public schools in more than 65 major metropolitan markets, according to information from the company.

2001 Beyond, on its own web site, describes its mission as being “to provide internet families with accurate and comprehensive information on school districts (K-12) in the major metropolitan markets across the United States. Whether families are moving a short distance or across the country, the question always asked is, ‘How are the Schools?’

“The School Profile has over 200 unbiased facts about school districts that helps parents identify which school best meets their family’s educational needs. Each School Profile contains up to four (4) districts side-by-side for easy comparison.”

Evanston is not the only school district to complain about its rating. Other Illinois communities with high scholastic reputations, such as Oak Park and Palos Park, were rated only “average” by the site. After the Tribune questioned the ratings, the Oak Park and Palos Park school systems both were upgraded to the “best” category, according to AP.

Sue Hall, a real estate agent in the Wilmette, Ill., office of Koenig & Strey, said she is “livid” about the errors. She said the vast majority of people moving to the area from out of state check such information on the internet, “and frankly, they’re looking to eliminate communities.”

School officials are upset, insiders said, because districts such as Evanston and Oak Park include high numbers of minority students. That leads many parents to mistakenly assume that the schools are suffering from the low academic performance, school officials said–a misperception reinforced by’s web ratings.

Biased attitudes about schools with high minority enrollments is so prevalent in Evanston that the school system has a Realtor’s committee made up of representatives from neighborhood schools and local real estate agencies. For 10 years, the committee has been working to communicate the district’s achievements to potential home buyers, Miehls said.

An NAR association spokesman said those controlling the site are considering changing the school ratings system to one that uses numerical rankings based on the scoring of different communities.

In an address at the NAR convention Nov. 6-9, the association’s President-elect, Sharon A. Millett, gave nearly 17,000 conference-goers a briefing on the web site.

“In a year’s time, online traffic to has grown more than 500 percent,” Millett said. “We’re not the only real estate site on the internet, but our enormous resources and depth of knowledge make us the online favorite.”

According to web site usage statistics released by NAR, is visited by more than 1 million consumers each month and more than 33 million homes are currently viewed each month, up from 12 million recorded a little more than a year ago.

National Association of Realtors

2001 Beyond — The School Profile

Evanston Township High School


Digital TV enriches video resources for educators: Pennsylvania invests $3 million in public television to convert programs for digital broadcast

Pennsylvania reportedly has become the first state to invest in the transition to digital television (DTV), a technology that could dramatically enrich the video resources available in the nation’s schools.

The Pennsylvania legislature has issued a $3 million grant to two of its public television stations, WITF-TV in Harrisburg and WHYY-TV in Philadelphia, to help introduce digital TV (DTV) programming to the state’s residents. John Bailey, director of educational technology for the state’s Department of Education, said the grant will have a huge impact on educational programs for the state’s schools.

“We’re moving from an era in which we watch TV to one where we can actually use it as an interactive learning tool,” Bailey said. “The implications for education are enormous.”

Pennsylvania is the first state to put forth public money to help its public TV stations convert to digital broadcasts, Bailey said.

Currently, viewers receive a television picture based on an analog broadcast system. Digital television captures images and sound using the same digital code found in computers. The conversion to digital allows for compression of data, which opens up bandwidth to create “parallel” channels within a single main channel.

Using these parallel channels together can create higher quality sound and video, called “high-definition” TV (HDTV). But splitting the broadcast into separate channels–called “multicasting”–lets a station broadcast more than one program at a time on a single digital channel.

“Probably the most exciting thing about this–and the application that will transform education the most–is that you can also broadcast data over any of these parallel channels,” Bailey said. So while students are watching a digital broadcast of a documentary on TV, for example, the teacher could be receiving supplementary information, or maybe a pop quiz, on a computer.

WITF-TV earlier this fall activated Pennsylvania’s first digital signal. The station is one of only seven public television stations in the country to carry a digital signal so far, according to Ann Meyers, a spokeswoman for the station. “It just enhances and extends the learning opportunity,” Meyers said.

Falling over Fallingwater

On Nov. 10 and 11, WITF broadcast a PBS special about Frank Lloyd Wright directed by Ken Burns. Made possible through a partnership between PBS and Intel Corp., the broadcast allowed viewers to download the equivalent of a full digital video disc (DVD) of supplementary material via computer at the same time they were watching the TV show.

The digital data received via computer included a virtual tour of Fallingwater, Wright’s most famous construction. Using their computer’s keyboard, viewers could control the camera angle as they “walked” through each room. Clicking on a feature of the room revealed further information about it, delivered in the actual voice of Wright’s grandson.

“When you think of all the research that someone like Ken Burns has done, and think of everything that ends up on the cutting room floor–with this technology, we have the ability to deliver information well beyond the allotted time slot for each show,” said Kathy Silks, vice president of communications for WITF-TV.

The station also invited educators to view a demonstration of the broadcast. “It knocked their socks off,” Silks said. “They were just amazed.”

Silks said the station is looking forward to delivering the technology to schools. Through PBS’ partnership with Intel, she said, the station received a DTV-enabled computer which it plans to bring to local school districts to demonstrate the technology.

Questions about standards

To experience the benefits of digital TV yourself, you’ll need to buy a DTV-ready television (for a few thousand dollars) or invest in a set-top box (for a couple hundred).

The technology is still emerging, and there are many competing standards, of which Intel’s Intercast is just one. “Right now, you’re seeing only the ‘early adopters’ buying this,” Bailey said. “Most people are still holding off.”

Despite the competing standards, Bailey is excited about the possibilities that DTV brings to the classroom.

“The FCC has ordered all broadcasters to adopt the technology by 2006, and public stations must convert by 2003,” he said. “Our investment is an effort to jump-start the process.”

Pennsylvania Department of Education


Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Intel Corp.


New ATM tool takes the toll out of in-district phone calls: Companies are helping schools find multiple uses for their telecommunications equipment

You can’t withdraw cash with it, but if you pay toll charges to make school-to-school telephone calls, a new asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) application could give you savings you can bank on.

Sphere Communications Inc., a communications company in Lake Bluff, Ill., uses new ATM technology to take the high cost out of in-district toll calls. Its product, dubbed Sphericall, allows you to use your high-speed data network to give your school system high-quality internal telephone service.

Sphericall, which runs from computer software, was created for small businesses and is now being targeted to schools. Sphere Communications claims you can use its product to set up an almost unlimited number of phones throughout your school system for less than half of what a traditional telephone company would charge.

Converting voice to data

The new application takes the sound of a voice and converts it briefly to data the ATM line can carry, then it converts the data back to sound for the end-listener.

“This has never been done before,” said Marci Williams, of Sphere Communications Inc.

The system provides fully functional telephone service–including voice mail, unified messaging, conferencing, auto-attendant, call forwarding, group pick-up, paging, and other standard digital and analog telephone features–for about half the cost a telephone company would charge for such services, said Frank Brletich, Sphere Communications president and CEO.

Sphere is able to offer its services for much less than competitors like Nortel, Lucent Technologies, and other more traditional telephone service providers. During a recent bidding process, Sphere’s bid to install and provide service for about 1,000 telephones across a West Coast school district came in well below that of other major competitors. The small company won the bid based on its assessment that the district could recoup the cost of installation in 18 months and save $1.3 million in five years.

“It’s fairly expensive to put standard phones into every classroom,” Brletich said. Rather than run in two lines–one for data, one for voice–to every classroom, Sphericall allows you to use the ATM line that already carries in your data to transport voice.

Because the application acts as a network element/PBX, Sphericall is eligible for subsidy under the eRate program, according to the company, which has applied for a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) to register with the Schools and Libraries Corp.

Quality of service

PC telephony is nothing new. Single users can transmit voice over the internet and PCs can employ a “voice bus” and voice boards from any number of vendors. But neither system can handle both voice and data over the same network with high-quality voice transmission.

Sphericall allows the network to carry data and voice at the same time, prioritizing the voice when it comes in. ATM was chosen as the network protocol for this new technology because it allows for a guaranteed quality of service.

That means that data related to voice transmission can be assigned priority over all other traffic on the line–including strictly code data. The result, the company says, is a sound quality that meets or exceeds that of traditional telephone service.

Telephone service for the digital age

With the Sphericall system, users also can control their telephone features on a desktop computer. For instance, you can transfer a phone call to another user’s line by using the mouse to drag the call to the user’s name. You also can use the desktop feature to view the phone numbers of all incoming calls and decide which to answer and which to re-route–all on your computer screen.

If you have access to your school or district server while on the road, you can download voice-mail messages to your laptop and listen to them later–saving yourself the expense of a long-distance call to listen to your messages.

Although the system runs on software residing on a local server, you can select a level of fault tolerance right up to complete redundancy. That means Sphericall will continue to deliver telephone service to the desktop even if the client computer is “locked up” or rebooting, the company said.

The drawbacks: The service will run only on a Windows NT 4.0 server, supporting NT 4.0 and Windows 95 clients. It does not support UNIX, OS/2, or Mac operating systems.

Sphere Communications Inc.