Start planning now for this highly competitive technology grant

If you’ve been following the news about President Clinton’s proposed budget for 2001 (or you attended the eSchool News Grants & Funding for School Technology conference Sept. 14-15 in Philadelphia), then you already know that one of the most well-known (and most competitive) federal grant programs will be making a comeback if the budget passes as proposed—the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants program.

The grants would fall under the Next Generation Technology Innovation program with proposed funding of $170 million and actually would combine the Star Schools program and the Technology Innovation Challenge Grants. Why bring this up now? To support my constant recommendation to grant seekers that you practice “proactive grant-seeking” at every opportunity by planning in advance for this potential competition.

If you already submitted a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant proposal that didn’t get funded, get the proposal and your reviewers’ comments out and get ready to start working as soon as you find out if—and when—the competition will be held next year. I can guarantee you that if you wait until the request for proposals (RFP) is released sometime next year before you begin working on a proposal, you will be hard-pressed to submit a competitive one. Why? For several reasons, based on prior Technology Innovation Challenge Grant competitions and the administration’s current trends in federal technology funding.

The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants were multi-year grants worth millions of dollars. Although no minimum requirement for matching funds was stipulated in past RFPs, conversations with prior grantees give you some idea of the level of matching funds. For example, a grantee that I know from New England told me they secured a matching gift (in the form of cash or in-kind contributions) from every business that was located in their community. It literally took a team of staff members six months to make the visits required to secure these matching funds—but all of their diligence and hard work obviously paid off, as they received a $10 million grant!

Some Technology Innovation Challenge Grant winners have shown as high as a six-to-one ratio of matching funds. Keep in mind that matching funds do not have to be all cash, but it will take some time to secure this level of contribution if you plan to have a competitive proposal.

The Technology Innovation Challenge Grants also required applicants to form a collaborative partnership and stipulated in the RFP what the suggested membership of such a partnership should be—a mix of public and private schools, higher education institutions, libraries, museums, businesses, and software developers. Although we still don’t know whether this will be a requirement once again, you can probably count on it, given the current emphasis on collaboration in the grant-seeking world. It will take both time and effort to form this kind of broad-based partnership, so the earlier you can start, the better.

With the current emphasis on evaluation at the federal level, I would also surmise that this will be an integral part of the next competition. Presently, the administration is looking for proof that the integration of technology into the classroom is having a significant impact on student achievement and learning. In many RFPs, you now see references to “research-based solutions” to problems; the implication is that you will be using this type of model to try to solve the problems you are experiencing.

In July 1999, the United States Department of Education (ED) held a two-day conference entitled “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Technology.” According to an article that appeared last year in eSchool News, Linda Roberts, the special advisor to President Clinton on educational technology, said that much of the evidence of success up to this point has been anecdotal as opposed to empirical.

At the conference, two recent studies were highlighted that emphasize the kind of evaluations ED is looking for—one in Idaho and one in West Virginia (see sidebar, page 17). If you are planning to apply for one of these grants, I would pay very close attention to these two studies and to the outcomes of the conference!

So, if you think you want to apply for this grant, my advice is to stay on top of the passage of the 2001 budget, find out if the program will be funded, and start taking a serious look at its past competitions now.

“Evaluating the Effectiveness of Educational Technology” conference

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