Nearly 500 educators from more than 36 states came together in January to meet grant givers, government funders, and assorted experts on how to raise money for school technology. They gathered at the Grants & Funding for School Technology conference in New Orleans Jan. 27 and 28. The conference was produced by eSchool News with corporate support from Teacher Universe Inc. and SchoolPop.com.

Besides contacts and courses, attendees got early word of what promises to be a boon for cash-strapped schools in search of technology funding: a free, web-based database of K-12 grants set to launch in February.

The Grant Locator will be searchable by keywords across five categories of funding—Federal, Foundation, Corporate, State and Local, and Other. Each of the database’s nearly 50,000 records will contain a description of the program, its funding priorities, application requirements, and contact information, according to the site’s creator, Teacher Universe.

The result of six months of research and development, the Grant Locator was created to save time and eliminate frustration on the part of K-12 grant seekers, said Peggy Lanier, former vice president of marketing for Teacher Universe.

“School districts spend thousands of dollars in staff hours trying to find sources of funding,” Lanier said. “We wanted to give them one single, simple location to come and learn all they need to know about the grants that might be available to them.”

The database is driven by a comprehensive search engine designed to help schools zero in on the best grants for their needs, she added. Up to four keywords can be used to narrow down the field of search and identify only the most appropriate grants for a proposed project.

The result, according to Teacher Universe, is that school grant seekers will spend less time searching and have more time to dedicate to writing proposals.

The database will be managed by a full-time staff so that grant seekers don’t filter through grants that are no longer available, Lanier said. In addition, new programs will be added to the database as they are announced.

Trends in funding

The Grant Locator, which will be available from the home page of the Teacher Universe web site, was just one of numerous ideas discussed at the Grants & Funding for School Technology conference.

In two general sessions and 18 technical sessions, the assembled experts—corporate and private foundation executives, federal program officers, educators, and grantwriting consultants—offered their advice for securing technology funding for K-12 schools.

Keynote speaker Jill Stephens, corporate outreach director for the Dulles, Va.-based AOL Foundation, kicked off the conference by telling attendees about the foundation’s giving. The impending merger of America Online and Time Warner likely will allow the foundation to expand its reach beyond its existing programs, Bridging the Digital Divide and Interactive Education Initiative, Stephens said.

Stephens also revealed her list of the “Top 10 Questions That Are Important to Corporate Grantmakers.” Among the questions she cited: Does the proposal tie into your schools’ overall goals and strategies? How will technology be used—and why is it important to the overall success of the project? Will your proposal have a positive impact on student learning? How will this impact be measured?

Tad Asbury, senior program officer for the MCI WorldCom Foundation, echoed Stephens’ thoughts. In a session titled “Approaching Corporate Funders: What Sells,” Asbury noted that corporate philanthropy tends to be more short-term, issue-driven, results-oriented, and less patient than private foundation philanthropy.

But the good news for schools, Asbury said, is that corporate funders are moving beyond “checkbook” giving to include expanded resources—such as in-kind services, skills, volunteerism, and products—as part of their total portfolio of giving.

Addressing the trends in federal government funding, Julie Kaminkow, special assistant to the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, revealed “New Funding Priorities” for the agency in 2000.

Here are some of the federal government’s funding hot buttons, she said: projects that aim to close the “digital divide” (by giving poorer students and families access to technology); programs that aim to increase the number of technology-savvy teachers; projects that generate high-quality, replicable content for the classroom; and programs that demonstrate how technology makes a difference.

eRate update

With up to $2.25 billion in telecommunications discounts available each year, the eRate is the largest single source for technology funding. Kate Moore, president of the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC)—the group that administers the program—was on hand to brief attendees on the state of the eRate.

“There is an unprecedented stability to the program right now,” Moore said, noting that the tide of anti-eRate sentiment in Congress has subsided, at least for the moment. However, the General Accounting Office—the investigative arm of Congress—is auditing the SLD for the second time and will present its findings to Congress later this year.

The initial filing window for applications covering the third year of the eRate closed on January 19, Moore said. The SLD expects to issue funding commitments by early May, in time for the start of the program’s third year on July 1.

During the Year-Three filing window, which lasted 71 days, schools and libraries across the country submitted more than 36,000 final applications, Moore said, surpassing last year’s total of 32,000. In the second year that electronic filing was available via the SLD’s web site, more than 28,000 applicants submitted their Form 471 applications electronically, tripling last year’s total of just over 9,000.

Now that funding requests have been received, Moore said, USAC will estimate the dollar amount of demand and present this information to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC can set funding up to $2.25 billion, based on the demand.

Receipt acknowledgement letters were expected to go out to all Year-Three applicants beginning the week of Jan. 31, Moore said. To distinguish these letters (and all subsequent correspondence from the SLD) from materials concerning Years One and Two, the Year-Three letters will be printed on yellow paper.

Moore said the SLD would be starting random field audits of applicants from Years One and Two to make sure they have complied with program rules. She advised applicants to keep all supporting documents readily available.

Some changes that applicants can expect for Year Four of the eRate: better organization of the SLD web site—including a search engine and a step-by-step procedure for applying—and a guide for electronically filing a Form 471. To ensure program stability, no major changes will be made to next year’s forms, Moore said.

Tips and techniques

Allen Schmieder, vice president of K-20 educational programs for JDL Technologies, moderated a roundtable discussion called “Rules of the Game.” A former federal government official, Schmieder advised grant seekers to know who your readers will be before you develop a proposal.

For example, if the readers for the program you’re applying to are mostly teachers, you’ll want to tailor your program description to reflect this fact. Emphasize that the role of teachers is integral to the project’s success, he suggested.

In a session titled “New Resources for School Grant Seekers,” Sue Collins, senior vice president of marketing for K-12 technology startup Bigchalk.com, urged grant seekers to start locally. “We do not tap our local resources nearly enough,” she said. Form a local trust or foundation, she recommended, and solicit help from banks, local companies, and chambers of commerce.

eSchool News columnist and fundraising consultant Deborah Ward took attendees on a tour through the basic elements of a proposal—the abstract or executive summary, statement of need, goal and objectives, evaluation plan, budget, and personnel section—in a well-attended session called “Crafting the Winning Grant Proposal.”

A word of caution for grant seekers: Title each section of your proposal using the same titles that appear in the RFP (request for proposal), Ward said, because these are what readers will be looking for. You don’t want to risk having a section of your proposal overlooked and awarded zero points.

The Grants & Funding for School Technology conference will be held again—April 27 and 28 in Kansas City, Mo. For more information, visit the eSchool News web site.

Links:
Teacher Universe
http://www.teacheruniverse.com

SchoolPop.com
http://www.schoolpop.com

AOL Foundation
http://www.aolfoundation.org

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

Schools and Libraries Division of USAC
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

JDL Technologies
http://www.jdltech.com

Bigchalk.com
http://www.bigchalk.com

Grants & Funding for School Technology Midwest conference
http://www.eschoolnews.com/gf