On March 9, 2016, President Obama unveiled the ConnectALL Initiative, which aims to ensure that all Americans, including low-income families, have broadband access to the Internet. ConnectALL is the next step towards digital equity and follows the President’s ConnectED and ConnectHOME initiatives. All three connectivity projects are critical towards allowing all students, regardless of income level, to leverage digital tools both at school and at home. ConnectALL recommends to the FCC a reform of a $1.5 billion subsidy to help low-income households get online via the Lifeline program.
SETDA remains committed to equity of access as outlined in the Broadband Imperativeand supported by E-Rate Modernization Resources. A major roadblock in the Navigation of the Digital Shift for states has been extending access to broadband in the home for all students. Lack of access outside of school serves only to increase the digital divide. If learning is to be personalized for every student, they must be able to access high quality resources and tools both inside and outside of the school building. ConnectALL is a promising effort to ensure all students have the broadband access they need to prepare for college and career.
Another in an occasional series of guest posts, we are pleased to feature the work and voices of state leaders. Kenneth Klau is the Director of the Office of Digital Learning for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Started in 2014, the Digital Connections Partnership Schools (DCPS) grant program is a competitive, matching state grant program to bridge the digital divide that exists in some public schools across Massachusetts and strengthen twenty-first century teaching and learning. This article highlights the theme of partnership, a facet of the DCPS initiative that sets it apart from many other grants of this type. Specifically, this post will address state-local partnership in the areas of funding, procurement and program development.
In the DCPS program, the state partners with each community to provide financial support based on local resources and needs. The state match percentage is calculated on a sliding scale from 30 to 70 percent based on each community’s ability to contribute to the state’s per pupil spending formula. Districts with more resources pay a higher share, those with fewer resources pay less.
In the DCPS program, the state partners with the local communities in overseeing the bidding and vendor selection process for technology infrastructure. The state acts as a single purchasing agent, fronts the cost of all wi-fi and broadband projects, and expedites the flow of federal E-rate reimbursements back to districts (communities have the option of using these reimbursements to help fund the local match). This alleviates administration and local burden at the local level and lets educators focus on program development.
In the DCPS program, the state match pays for products and services that are eligible for E-rate “Category 2” reimbursements and provides professional learning across districts in order to facilitate cross-district professional development networks. The local match pays for devices, assistive technologies and additional professional development. Each district must define the problem that a shift toward increased digital learning might solve, and demonstrate that it has related plans for technical support, human capital development and sustainability. Districts have the leeway to identify the resources they need to achieve those ends, and the state facilitates professional learning opportunities for the grantees beyond the funding period, ensuring good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
In authentic partnerships, the parties work together to create something new. In effective partnerships, the parties assume both responsibility and accountability for doing what they do best, so that the end product has the highest likelihood for success. The DCPS initiative is still new, but we are hopeful that it can serve as a model for rethinking educational technology at the same time it reinvents state-local partnerships.
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Kenneth Klau is the Director of Digital Learning for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Ken is responsible for developing a strategy for rethinking the structure and delivery of learning, building a more student-centered system of public education, and creating the next generation of K–12 learning environments. He brings more than a decade of experience at the state level in accountability system design and instructional improvement at scale. Prior to coming to the department, Ken worked in the private sector as director of operations for a start-up educational publishing company and served as manager of curriculum development for a comprehensive educational reform organization that served predominantly urban elementary and middle school students in ten states.