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Grants and Other Financial Assistance Programs: FY2017

Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant & Loan Program
Fund Code: N/A

Purpose: The Digital Connections Initiative provides tools, assistance, and funding to bridge the digital divide that exists in some schools across the Commonwealth and strengthen twenty-first century teaching and learning. The initiative is a partnership between the Office of Digital Learning (ODL) within the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), the Massachusetts Department of Information Technology (MassIT), and the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway (ESH). The initiative consists of:
  1. The School Technology Readiness Survey, an online tool for collecting information about the current state of technology in a school. All districts seeking state assistance for technology upgrades, including districts that may be seeking a waiver of the requirement to administer computer-based tests in grades 4 and 8 in 2017, must complete the survey for every school in the district (completion of the survey does not automatically result in a waiver).
  2. The EducationSuperHighway Broadband Upgrade Program, a partnership between ESH and Massachusetts to support districts with their broadband upgrades. ESH provides a team of expert consultants to work with each interested district to:
    • Conduct outreach to a broad network of competitive providers;
    • Support your RFP process;
    • Build a business case for your town approval;
    • Provide tips for negotiating with providers; and
    • Act as project managers during the implementation process.
    • All services are free of charge. To schedule a half hour kick-off call, make an appointment.
  3. The Digital Connections Partnership Schools (DCPS) Grant
    • $2 million in state bond funds are available to cover non-discount project costs under the federal E-rate program (state match). The state will cover non-discounted project costs until the funds run out. All local matching funds must be provided to MassIT before the project starts, and all project costs that utilize state bond funds must be completed by June 30, 2017. The local match may come from other public or private sources.
  4. The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) Loan Program
    • Thanks to the State Treasurer's Office, the MSBA is providing $10 million in interest-free loans to cover discounted costs for the local match (up to $2.5 million per district). Districts that do not qualify for a state match are still eligible for loans, and districts could apply for a loan only, provided that they complete the School Technology Readiness Survey and submit a DCPS application. (Note: The DCPS application is not an application for loans, nor are the loans administered by ESE or MassIT. Rather, MSBA will use the information provided by districts through the DCPS application to inform their process.)
  5. E-rate discounts. E-rate is a federal program that provides technology discounts for schools and libraries. E-rate is administered by the Universal Services Administrative Company (USAC) under the oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). All public schools are eligible to receive discounts on eligible Category 1 services (Internet/broadband and for a limited time, voice) and Category 2 services (internal connections, managed internal broadband services, and basic maintenance of internal connections), but only if the services are purchased from eligible contracts and the application is approved by USAC. Discounts on Category 2 Wi-Fi range from 20 to 85 percent based upon poverty level and whether the district is rural or urban. Rural districts and districts with higher poverty receive greater discounts. Almost all Massachusetts public schools receive at least a 40 percent discount. (Note: Funding under the current program is only available for a limited time and all districts are strongly encouraged to file an E-rate application for reimbursements no later than FY19.)
Priorities: Priority shall be given to applications for grants and/or loans that:
  • Maximize the access of broadband and improve the efficiency and productivity of education through the use of technology;
  • Provide student access to individualized and rigorous digital learning experiences;
  • Ensure that educators and administrators have the knowledge and skills to develop and implement digital learning curricula; and
  • Maximize taxpayer value, student access to information technology and information technology preparedness.
Applications will be further prioritized based on the extent to which the overall applicant pool reflects the geographic diversity of the Commonwealth (e.g., suburban, urban, rural); number of students served; Chapter 70 contribution; school infrastructure needs (some schools in a district's application may be funded, but not others); and whether the applicant applied for DCPS grant funds in the past, but was not funded.

Eligibility: All public school districts in the Commonwealth are eligible for funding, provided that:
  • Funds are not awarded to school buildings scheduled for decommissioning or razing within 10 years from the completion of the project; and
  • Projects occur only on and within publicly-owned real property maintained for the benefit of the school district.
Charter schools and educational collaboratives are eligible to apply as long as the two eligibility criteria above are met.

Funding:A total of $2 million in state bond funds are available to cover non-discount project costs under the federal E-rate program (state match). The state will cover non-discounted project costs until the funds run out. A total of $10 million in interest-free loans are available to cover discounted costs (local match; up to $2.5 million per district). Districts that do not qualify for a state match are still eligible for loans, and districts could apply for a loan only, provided that they complete the School Technology Readiness Survey, submit a DCPS application, and schedule a consultation with EducationSuperHighway. (Note: The DCPS application is not an application for loans, nor are the loans administered by ESE or MassIT. Rather, MSBA will use the information provided by districts through the DCPS application to inform their process.) The local match may come from other public or private sources. All local matching funds must be provided to MassIT before the project starts, and all project costs that utilize state bond funds must be completed by June 30, 2017.

Fund Use:All funds must be used to pay for Category 1 and/or Category 2 upgrades (as determined by the E-rate program).
(Note: By law, E-rate reimbursements are returned to the municipal general fund. With agreement from their municipal government, districts may use some or all of the reimbursement to pay for devices, professional development, assistive technology for students and teachers, and other educational technology needs.)

Project Duration:Project costs that utilize state bond funds must be completed by June 30, 2017. Districts that utilize loans do not have this restriction; loans must be repaid within 5 years. (Note: If the loan is not repaid within 5 years, the MSBA reserves the right to use a state aid intercept.)

Program Unit:Office of Digital Learning, ESE; Office of Municipal and School Technology, MassIT
Contact: General Program Inquiries: Kenneth Klau, Director, Office of Digital Learning, ESE (781) 338-3505

Funding and Infrastructure Inquiries: DCPSG@mass.gov, Office of Municipal and School Technology, MassIT (617) 626-4545

Broadband Upgrade Inquiries: EducationSuperHighway (link to schedule a kick-off call)

Date Due:Friday, October 7, 2016

Required Forms: Part I: School Technology Readiness Survey (districts with 10 or more schools were provided with a spreadsheet.)

Part II: Application (also the way for districts to indicate interest in applying for a loan with the MSBA)

Part III: Assurances (Only Finalists are required to submit assurances to MassIT, based on a process determined by MassIT. MSBA-administered loans will include additional assurances)

Additional Information:
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
Application (for reference purposes only - application is submitted online)
Download PDF Document  Download MS WORD Document
FAQ Document
Download MS EXCEL Document
Scorecard
Download PDF Document  Download PowerPoint Presentation
Slides from the August 23–24 applicant webinar. A recording is available.
View HTML Page
Wi-Fi and Broadband: Resources include the Compare & Connect K-12 tool, which lets districts compare bandwidth and prices with similar school districts to help get more bandwidth for their broadband budget.
View HTML Page
E-rate: Resources include the Category 2 Funding Estimator, which calculates the E-rate funding available to districts and schools; the Bandwidth Calculator, which calculates the bandwidth recommended for the district overall and each school in the district; an E-rate filing checklist, and more.
View HTML Page
Watch Video  Download Video File
Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant
Watch Video  Download Video File
Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant - Braintree
Watch Video  Download Video File
Digital Connections Partnership Schools Grant – Winter 2016 Professional Development Event
Submission Instructions:
  1. Complete the School Technology Readiness Survey (provide information for all schools in the district, not just those for which the district seeks grant or loan funding)
  2. Complete the Application
  3. Schedule a kick-off call with ESH




Last Updated: September 2, 2016
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