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Straight A: An update on Ohio’s innovation funds

Our team regularly is asked “What’s up with Straight A?” So here is the scoop.

Ohio’s Straight A Fund Governing Board met this week and state officials provided insight on both the state budgeting process and the plan for Straight A Rounds 5 and 6 (if the legislature approves Straight A funding in the coming biennial budget).

House reduces proposed Straight A allocation to $5 million per year

Dr. Susan Zelman, who directs the Straight A program for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), told governing board members that the Ohio House of Representatives reduced the proposed Straight A budget from $15 million per year in FY18 and FY19 (as proposed by Governor Kasich) to $5 million per year due to statewide budget constraints. ODE staff have been invited by Rep. Andy Brenner, a Straight A board member and chairperson of the House Education and Career Readiness Committee, to speak to his committee at the end of May.

Staff members plan to highlight Straight A’s impact on student achievement across the state, and they hope to have similar conversations in the Senate. It is important to note, that while the House version of the budget (House Bill 49) proposes a significant reduction to Straight A funds, it is still early in the process. The Senate could re-instate the Governor’s proposed funding, increase or decrease funding, or possibly remove it altogether. Once the Senate votes, negotiations between the House and Senate will iron out any differences in the two budget bills. Based on past practice, the Senate will finish in late May and Conference Committee will meet in early June. By law, the entire budget process must be complete by June 30 in time for the new fiscal year to begin July 1.

Board Considering 2 Buckets: Innovation and Replication

The Straight A Governing Board has been having some intriguing discussion, likely to result in changes to both process and priorities. ODE staff is recommending increasing award periods from one year to two years, to increase planning time for projects. This would shift the timeline from a single year implementation followed by five years of sustainability requirements to a new timeline including one year of planning, one year of implementation and four years of sustainability. EnvisionEdPlus wholeheartedly supports this idea.

In addition, we anticipate the next cycle of grants to have two buckets of funding – innovation (new grants – novel approaches, not previously funded) and replication (scaling proven practices from previous rounds). Dr. Peggy Sorenson from the Straight A team said this could be achieved through a cycle similar to the chart below:

While details regarding the new replication grant process are still in the developmental stage, our team is excited about supporting both new innovations and replication of proven strategies.

How Do We Best Position Our Ideas for the Next Straight A Cycle?

EnvisionEdPlus has been working with schools, districts, ESCs and higher ed partners since Round 1, and we are proud to say that our partners have been awarded nearly half of all Straight A funds to date. We recommend the following strategies to position your idea for success. In fact, these strategies are relevant to any initiative, whether potential funding sources are local, state, federal or foundation investments.

Start Planning NOW

Our most successful projects are those which began planning months in advance. Our team is already hard at work in several communities identifying needs, crafting ideas and thinking about cost savings/ long term sustainability. Dr. Zelman’s blog Innovation Starts with the Problem is a great resource to help you get started by identifying your challenges.

Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

Look at the Straight A website and find out what has already been funded. The Straight A Board doesn’t want to invest in “more of the same.” If your idea has been funded in previous rounds, consider partnering with those grantees to replicate their work in your school.

Transformational Change

The Straight A Board was clear they want to fund NEW ideas. For example, 1-1 initiatives like Chromebook/iPad deployment are no longer viewed as innovations, but as strategies to bring technology to classroom. In the next cycles, capital outlay and equipment funds will likely be limited to projects that clearly demonstrate novel use of equipment/space essential to drive transformational changes in student achievement.

Not sure where to start? Consider attending our summer Design Lab. On June 13 -14, we are partnering with the Mahoning County Educational Service Center to bring Straight A grantees and other innovators together to share their stories, spark new ideas and create implementation plans. This is a great opportunity for any team to network with like-minded folks and begin planning their next innovation.

Registration is happening now.