Governor Nathan Deal today announced 48 local education authorities (LEAs) will be awarded more than $8.2 million from the third round of the Connections for Classrooms grant program, a collaborative funding effort between the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), the Georgia Department of Education and the OneGeorgia Authority to help ensure classrooms across the state have the high-speed broadband access required for digital and blended learning. These funds will enable the LEAs, which include 47 districts and one state school, to receive $16.8 million in federal E-Rate funds, making the total investment of $25 million in school and classroom network infrastructure.
Connections for Classrooms is part of a broader statewide effort to expand classroom high-speed broadband access in response to Deal’s Digital Learning Task Force recommendations as well as the state’s efforts to enable personalized learning for Georgia students. Across three grant rounds, the program has provided more than $70 million in grants to 157 LEAs to accomplish this goal and has enabled them to be eligible for up to $110 million in federal E-rate funds for the same purpose.
Round 3 capitalizes on the recent $2 billion expansion of the federal E-Rate program’s Category 2, which provides grants to LEAs for school-level network infrastructure that can provide local match funding. LEAs that had remaining E-rate eligibility for school- and classroom-level network upgrades after first two Connections for Classrooms rounds were eligible to apply. Applicants had to describe their network infrastructure plans and how the increased connectivity would enable them to implement digital and blended learning to improve student outcomes. Independent reviewers with digital learning expertise scored applications based upon a scoring rubric out of 50 possible points that was released when the grant competition opened.
Each application received two scores that were averaged together. Any review that resulted in more than a ten-point spread between reviewers triggered a third review; that third score was averaged with the other two scores. LEAs were then ranked by total score. Awards were then given out using the table below:
LEAs must apply for and receive federal E-rate Category 2 funds to receive reimbursement for local matching funds from Connections for Classrooms, and they can only use grant funds for that purpose.
Even after Round 3 awards, Georgia districts are still eligible for roughly $30 million in local match requirements for the E-rate program, which would enable LEAs to receive as much as $80 million in E-rate funding. With this in mind, Governor Deal’s amended FY16 budget includes $14.9 million to further invest in Connections for Classrooms.