DLN Report Card Preview: Seeding Innovation in Ohio

Leadership, State Policy

The Digital Learning Report Card examines each state’s progress in implementing policies that give students access to quality digital learning. These advances promise to revolutionize the current K-12 education model by giving students access to far more courses and allowing them to learn in their own way and at their own pace. This annual report card is produced by Digital Learning Now (DLN), an initiative of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), Getting Smart Smart Advocacy Partner. The fourth annual report card will be released later this month, grading each state’s 2014 digital education policies against the 10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning.

We will be highlighting progress and sharing success stories from individual states published in collaboration between Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart. These stories are based on interviews with policymakers and stakeholders.Today we highlight progress in advancing innovation in Ohio. This blog first appeared on The Ed Fly Blog.


Erin Lockett

Imagine a fund that sparks innovation and spurs student learning. In Ohio, such a fund is setting the stage for real change to K-12 education. They call it the Straight A Innovation Fund.

To participate, educational entities in Ohio submit innovative ideas, strategies and plans that advance academic achievement, reduce spending and drive more dollars to the classroom. Once an application is selected, the state awards a grant to help implement those ideas. The fund is giving a boost to forward-thinking districts and schools, providing new opportunities to students and has the potential to improve educational outcomes.

HB 59 is the legislation for Ohio’s state budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal years, and it includes this unique fund. Distributed through a competitive grant process, the fund was created by Governor John Kasich and supported by the legislature within Ohio’s two year, $17 billion state education budget.

Whether the submission enhances technology or academic rigor, applicants must also show how their plans will result in cost savings. Does the innovation reduce textbooks and copy paper purchases? Can schools and districts share instructional costs for new classes across boundaries? The ideas seeded by the Ohio Straight A Innovation Fund have created high-quality learning opportunities for students while saving tax dollars.

Collaboration for Innovation. According to former Ohio State Representative and Education Committee Chairman Gerald Stebelton, “When you create the environment, space and funding for collaboration, it will happen.”

Since applicants are required to outline possible implementation cost savings, this is a great example of “spending to save.” These savings don’t just stop at one school or district either. Since schools learn from others’ innovations, thoughtful collaboration ensures savings are passed on well beyond the approved application. Stebelton notes, “A distinguishing aspect of these funds is that they encourage collaboration. As a result, many districts have partnered to create joint ventures with large/small, urban/rural districts. There are also strong partnerships between state aid agencies, universities and local districts.”

Early Signs Show Success. The Ohio Department of Education facilitates the award process, but implementation on the ground is key to bringing goals to reality. Interest around the state has been high, which creates a competitive process for applicants. Innovation happens with collaboration, not isolation, and the fund has spurred a number of partnerships. A recent example is the expanding and replicating of a robotics and manufacturing education center by a consortium of career tech centers.

The first round of funding awarded in 2014 distributed $88.6 million to 24 grantees representing over 150 school districts. A second round in 2015 awarded 34 grants totaling $141.9 million with an estimated $246.7 million in spending reductions over five years.

Other states exploring similar innovation funds can learn from Ohio. Grants that prioritize blended learning and student-centered policies can help focus states on student learning and reward the schools delivering savings and efficiency. These grants should always be tracked and results communicated – to ensure accountability and to share successful practices with more teachers and students.

Stay tuned for more information on how states are approaching education policy to advance personalized, digital learning.

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Erin Lockett is a Policy Coordinator at The Foundation For Excellence in Education. 

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