SALT LAKE CITY — An initiative aiming to boost Utah schools' technology is moving forward.
Schools across the state have applied for funding from the state to help drive the increase of infrastructure, hardware, software and more in schools around the state, through the Utah State Board of Education’s educational technology initiative, the Digital Teaching and Learning Grant Program.
The amount of funding is based on school size and can range from $12,000 for small charter schools to more than $1 million.
"The expectation is that everyone can participate … there’s money for everyone," said Sarah Young, one of two digital teaching and learning coordinators for the state board of education.
Implementation will begin in early 2017. Fifty-nine schools or school districts have submitted plans that are pending state board approval, and six have received provisional approval.
This initiative has an ongoing commitment from the Utah State Legislature of $10 million, plus $5 million one-time funding.
“What the districts are putting into digital teaching and learning is probably 10 times that and more," said Rick Gainsford, the state board's other digital teaching and learning coordinator.
In the next Utah legislative session, the board plans to ask for $25 million in one-time funding to continue the program into 2018.
Schools who qualify for the program needed to meet 12 different elements in their grant applications, which included assessments of existing inventory, a communication plan, technical support, student data policies and an articulation of sustainability.
At bootcamps put on by the state board of education earlier this year, educators received help with preparing their grant applications and discussing their school's technology needs.
"There is no one size fits all plan for our (local education agencies) … in Juab what can you can expect could be very different from Washington County … but you know your superintendent made that decision," Young said.
For example, in an effort to help student athletes with their school work, Millard School District plans to put Wi-Fi on the travel buses with part of their funding.
"Being a rural school, our games are an hour or more away. With Wi-Fi the students can watch their lectures and work on coursework they’d be missing,” said Chad Warnick, an agricultural educator and Future Farmers of America advisor in Millard School District. "For our particular district (the funding has) been a catalyst … once the grant came out we tried to figure out what our plan was, and we ended up making a district-wide technology initiative."
The Digital Teaching and Learning Grant Program does not come without challenges.
"The resources are not as much as we’d like to give (to the schools)," Gainsford said.
Speaking from a teacher’s perspective, Warnick said “the other challenge is making sure that we’re giving teachers the time to create meaningful content … a lot of times in education things are just thrown at teachers.”
Both Young and Gainsford say the program’s goal is to improve education.
The technology initiative “wasn’t about wanting to put a device in every student’s hand. We want to give these students the best in-class education possible,” Gainsford said.