(published October 11, 2013)
Balancing the needs of students with the steep costs to the state of a public education has continued to prove troublesome for educators nationwide. The Ohio Department of Education is hoping to ameliorate this difficulty by allocating $250 million to schools that present innovative and sustainable educational programs.
This grant, called the “Straight A Fund,” is working to bridge the gap in funding between districts. According to EdSource, the national average spent on educating an individual student during the 2010-2011 school year was just under $12,000. In 2011, Orange County — a region nearby Cuyahoga County — spent the most in the state educating its students, with overall total expenditures per pupil amounting to $21,463. On the other end of that spectrum is Avon, in Lorain County, at $7,181 in overall total expenditures per student. According to EdSource, the City of Oberlin spent $12,218 in the 2010-2011 school year — an amount that only slightly deviates from the state average of $10,616.
According to John Schroth, Superintendent of Oberlin Public Schools, approximately 1500 applications were sent in across the state.
“Oberlin is involved with two different applications; one is a part of a consortium [that was] initiated through [the Tri-Rivers Computer Association], our application service provider down in Marion, OH. There are a number of school district centers [that want to] improve internet bandwidth.”
Although agreeing that program itself may have potential to help Ohio schools over time, Schroth admits the application process has been trying.
“They want you to show in a 5-year forecast that this money will not raise your expenditures at all, and that it’ll reduce your total spending in your 5-year forecast. But it can’t be used to buy something or hire somebody, because that’s only a one-time infusion of dollars. You really have to work hard to document this [in your forecast] because of this initial spending. I’ve never seen that in a grant application before,” said Schroth.
While the purpose of the Straight A Fund is to expand educational programs/initiatives given the available resources, the ultimate objective is the sustainability of any new program implemented by a teacher, school, or district. According to John Charlton, the associate director for media relations of the Ohio Department of Education, the allocation of funds is contingent upon the applicant pool and the nature of the proposed program.
“[This fund] could go to a school, to a district, to [an] individual teacher. What’ll happen is no one will get [the] entire $250 million — there will be several awards given out. School districts can receive up to $5 million, where a collaboration that has a school district [with] a university can receive up to $15 million,” said Charlton.
According to Charlton, the main goal of the project is to “driv[e] more dollars to the classroom.” The founders hope that the implementation of a sustainable program that enhances outlets for education will soon replace similar programs and therefore lower the opportunity cost of the program.
The grant will also provide funds to programs in their beginning stages.
“If there is an innovative program that’s already in existence and they’re duplicating it, it might help them when they apply, but the fund’s objective is to give schools the financial leeway to discover if their new ideas are working,” said Charlton.
“It’s possible that we’ll try something out and figure out it needs some adjustments, and we want them to be successful, so we’ll provide some leeway for an entity to say ‘We’re going to try this out and we think it’s going to work, but we think this other success is really great too,’ so you adjust the program. That’s OK too. Or if it’s [a] total bust, stop it and start something new. Once they receive the money they have the money,” Charlton said.
While schools will need to provide the Department of Education with progress reports, institutions that choose to delay the submission process will still be able to apply.
“Of the $250 million, $100 [million] will be awarded this year, $150 [million] next year, so it’s already in a two-year working period,” said Charlton.
Two major concerns among Ohio educators are a student’s access to technology and their ability to read from an early age. The state can currently guarantee a third-grade reading level for students in the third grade — a measurement that many educators find inadequate. Because of this, Charlton hopes that many applications will address the issue of kindergarten preparation.
“[The Department of Education] wants to [do] a better job making sure they’re prepared, so they’re not behind on their first day of school,” said Charlton.
According to Charlton, the Straight A Fund will also work towards improving education for students with learning disabilities.
“A device that fits around [the] throat and [the] head of [a] teacher [who] helps students with hearing disabilities hear better … might be $20,000, but it would be funded because it’s innovative. It would absolutely help teach and help students learn proper pronunciations and things like that.”
Although the Ohio Department of Education defines the fund as an “unprecedented” project that will “give creative and cost-effective solutions the seed funding they need to get off the ground,” Schroth argues that the grant money could potentially be better spent on other aspects of education.
“My personal belief is that instead of taking this money out of the state budget, they should have just put that $250 million into district funding. It would have given another $100 to spend per student, rather than making it so specific to the grant,” said Schroth. “[Oberlin schools are] “also working on our own application focusing on developing a technology upgrade to improve equipment we purchase.”