New K-12 Funding for Education Transformation

by Jenny House

K-12 fundingDo you offer products or services that could help students identify and pursue careers aligned with their personal passions? If so, then there is a recently announced source of funds that could open up new district sales opportunities for you. In May, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced a new $400 million Race to the Top grant that school districts can apply for to receive between $5 and 40M for education transformation. This is timely because applications are available as of August 13, 2012. Read this article and get more free tips on the companion talk show on STS radio.

Unique District-Focused Sales Opportunity

This new round of grants requires district – not state - applicants to focus on personalized learning. This does not mean individualized learning as we have known in products in the past like integrated learning systems (ILS).  This definition of personalization means “creating opportunities for students to identify and pursue areas of personal passion in the context of ensuring that each student demonstrates mastery in critical areas identified in college- and career ready standards.” The issue of personalization includes not only the classroom program but also in its competitive priorities - parent engagement and after school programs.  The announcement for this grant reads:

"Race to the Top District will reward those LEAs that have the leadership and vision to implement the strategies, structures and systems of support to move beyond one-size–fits-all models of schooling, which have struggled to produce excellence and equity for all children, to personalized, student-focused approaches to teaching and learning that will use collaborative, data-based strategies and 21st century tools to deliver instruction and supports tailored to the needs and goals of each student, with the goal of enabling all students to graduate college-and career-ready."

New Provisions Link Students, Teachers and K-12 Leaders

Applicants can include a single district of 2,000 students. Groups of 10 districts may apply regardless of the number of students. They can also focus on specific grade levels like K-3 or subject areas like STEM. All of these aspects really establish a unique environment to drive education transformation. At least 40% of students must come from low-income families.

As with previous Race to the Top programs, they must find a way to link student performance to teacher evaluation but the interesting part is they also must link student performance to the evaluation of principals and superintendents. How this will be executed will be interesting to track.

An interesting requirement is that applicants must submit their applications to the states and mayors for feedback during a final 10-business day period before submission. But, there is no requirement to make changes based on that feedback!

Targeting New RTT Funds With Your Education Sales Plan

Where should you be focusing your sales resources in light of this new federal funding program? Districts that educational pundits have identified as potential candidates include:

  • Los Angeles Unified - California
  • Hillsborough County Schools – Florida
  • Austin – Texas
  • Boston
  • Charlotte-Mecklenberg, NC
  • Denver
  • Houston
  • Nashville, TN
  • New York City

The DOE is looking for innovation.  Some of these districts are not known for this attribute, so new types of applicants will truly be considered. Districts will be considered in categories, one based on previous Race to the Top award and the other based on rural district classification (or not).

This is a Quality, not Quantity K-12 Sales Opportunity

Here are the district enrollments and corresponding budget ranges for the $400M worth of grants that applicants may pursue:
2000-5000 students: $15-20 million; 5001-9999 students: $17-22 million; 10,000+students: $20-40 million. Since these are three to five year grants, the size makes them worth your time to work with district leaders who wish to pursue them.  The goal is to award 15-25 grants. If your company's products or services are included in any one, you would have great revenue potential.

Four Step K-12 Action Plan for New RTT Grant

Here is the timing and a four-step action plan for this grant opportunity:

  • May 2012: The announcement about the grant
  • May 22 – June 8: Public comments solicited about the grant
  • August 13, 2012: Application released
  • August 30, 2012: Intent to apply letters submission deadline
  • October 30, 2012: Applications due
  • October: November: Review of applications
  • December 31, 2012: awards announced
  • January-May 2013: money will be available for planning and infrastructure

Before you jump on this grant opportunity, review the tenets of the grant to confirm that your product(s) can help improve student achievement and educator quality consistent with the parameters of this grant. Also be sure that you have company information and efficacy research that can be cited as part of the application. If so, then take these four steps:

  1. Find out if any of your innovative districts are going to pursue the grant.  If they are, figure out how to position your product as part of their plan.
  2. If you can’t find any districts applying, send the link about the grant to district you think would have a great chance to pursue and be awarded.
  3. Put together a vendor-matching plan.  The exact percentage for each level for vendor matching has yet to be released.  However, you know what they will need: Discounts?; In-kind services?; Extra professional development?; Equipment?; Special license, bundle, etc?
  4. If none of your districts are applying, you need to track the awards that come out in December and market to them in January.

About the Author

Jenny House, President and Founder of RedRock Reports. She provides strategic vision on funding from both business and education perspectives. Her work is informed by years of experience in school administration as well as industry management and includes positions at H/P and Apple, as well as executive positions at Classroom Connect and Tenth Planet.