With the broad attention that personalized blended learning is receiving around the country, public school superintendents and other decisionmakers are registering increased interest.
While the powerful outcomes reported by the early adopters of these models are inspiring to many, responsible education leaders appreciate that shifting to a personalized learning model requires a serious investment of resources and time. Local and national philanthropies alike have provided generous help to some blended learning exemplars, but demand for this support has also grown.
Fortunately, new solutions to blended learning funding challenges are emerging, and from a wide range of sources.
A helpful letter of guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology late last year offers important clarification on the use of federal funds to support blended learning implementation.
The document provides numerous, specific examples of how funds from Title I, II and III under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as well as parts of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), can be leveraged for these purposes.
According to examples cited, not only may school district and charter school grantees utilize Title I-A funds to acquire devices for student use and to transition to schoolwide blended learning models, but devices for use as assistive technology devices identified by the Individualized Education Plans of special-needs students can also qualify. Federal professional development funds for teachers can be used in a variety of ways integral to blended learning. A number of other, related possibilities are also discussed
Particularly useful for school leaders is a listing of specific agency contacts at the end of the letter whom schools may contact for further clarification.
Already, federal changes and expansions to the E-Rate program administered by the Federal Communications Commission are expanding opportunities to bolster school broadband access to meet the increased requirements needed for new digital content. A number of states have also undertaken aggressive programs to accelerate this process.
Some lawmakers, too, have taken steps to expand available resources for schools to embrace blended learning models. The 21st Century Classroom Innovation Act, sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and in the Senate by Senators Orrin Hatch and Marco Rubio, would create new opportunities for school districts and charter schools to support the creation of blended learning programs. The plan’s state-driven funding structure acknowledges that the valuable support high-quality blended learning offers teachers is most effectively leveraged when they are equipped with proven instructional strategies aligned with their particular program models.
Meanwhile, forward-thinking school leaders are finding their own solutions:
In New York, winning a 2012 federal Race to the Top District grant provided leaders of the Enlarged City School District of Middletown with $20 million to design and implement its innovative vision for a districtwide, student-controlled learning environment. Elements of the district’s comprehensive model supported by the grant included 10 staff instructional days each year for teachers, mobile device technicians, deploying several educational technology instructional coaches, and the purchase of some 2,600 mobile tablet devices for student use.
South Carolina’s Horry County Schools has implemented its renowned Personalized Digital Learning initiative largely through support from a countywide penny sales tax. Some Title I funding was applied to purchasing devices and upgrading school infrastructure to support broadband internet use. The district offers parents the option to pay an optional $50 insurance fee, which allows their children to bring the portable tablet devices home to work.
As personalized blended learning models expand around the country, the range of arrangements used to fund this important work will surely also grow. Meanwhile, maximizing flexibility to meet students’ educational needs in innovative ways will go a long way toward bringing the success of these models to serve new school communities.
Find Archived Articles: