Thursday, April 30, 2015

How Competitive Are Those Competitive Grants?

John Sipple from Rural Schools was on WSKG today speaking sensibly about the fact that those big Pre-K grants last year mostly went to big schools with the personnel to fill out the copious paperwork.

Last year 62 districts in upstate New York won funds, but those winners are pretty unevenly distributed around the state. A lot of them are down near New York City. The Southern Tier had four awards, and the North Country had just one.

Well, we voted in November for another enormous competitive grant program, that super-duper Smart Schools Bond Act that gives us everything from crazy-fast broadband to new and improved security systems. (I say "we" voted for it, but "I" did not, for the reasons stated here.) And now, five months later, here are the guidelines for the competitive grant. I call your attention to my favorite parts. Boldface is theirs, not mine.

Adequate Technological Infrastructure:

In order for students and faculty to receive the maximum benefit from the technology made available under the Smart Schools Bond Act, their school buildings must possess sufficient connectivity infrastructure to ensure that devices can be used during the school day. Smart Schools Investment Plans must demonstrate that sufficient infrastructure that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s 100 Mbps per 1,000 students standard currently exists in the buildings where new devices will be deployed, or is a planned use of a portion of Smart Schools Bond Act funds, or is under development through another funding source. Achieving this speed standard is a precondition for the purchase of devices as described further in the school connectivity section.

Professional Development:

The district must describe a plan to provide professional development to ensure administrators, teachers and staff can employ the technology purchased with funds from the Smart Schools Bond Act to enhance instruction successfully. Districts will demonstrate that they have contacted the SUNY teacher preparation program that supplies the largest number of their new teachers to request advice on this issue. Please note that Smart Schools Bond funds may not be used for professional development.

Technical Support:

The district should provide sufficient on-going tech support to ensure that the technology (hardware and/or educational technology-related infrastructure) purchased with funds from the Smart Schools Bond Act will be distributed, prepared for use, maintained and supported appropriately. Please note that Smart Schools Bond funds may not be used for technical support. Districts are encouraged to work through BOCES for technical support.


As part of their Smart Schools Investment Plans, districts are required to demonstrate a long-term plan to physically maintain the investments made under the Smart Schools Bond Act in a useful condition. This sustainability plan will demonstrate a district’s capacity to support the recurring costs of use, for which Smart Schools Bond Act funds may not be used. These recurring costs include, but are not limited to, issues such as device maintenance and timing of replacement, as well as other technical support, internet and wireless fees, maintenance of hotspots etc., ongoing professional development, building maintenance, replacement of incidental items etc., as appropriate.

So to compete for this grant, not only must a district already have the infrastructure needed to support any devices purchased, but it must also prove that it has the funds to support its purchase in a sustainable way AND to provide adequate training for the people who will use the technology. All that in addition to having the personnel available to write the grant in the first place. Who will "compete" for this grant? As with the Pre-K grant, it will again be larger, urban districts. They are the most likely already to have the connectivity, and they have the personnel.

Our local districts are eligible for anywhere from $600K (Lansing) to over $2 million (Ithaca). If they don't apply, will they be perceived to be ungrateful? or just realistic? If they apply and don't succeed, will they be thought of as unworthy? or simply cash-strapped? Stay tuned.

How competitive are those competitive grants? Well, picture yourself falling off the couch and into the NFL Scouting Combine. It might be a competition, but how well do you think you would do?

No comments: