This is a follow up to last year’s blog series, “Lessons Learned from the Raising Blended Learners Initiative in Texas,” where we shared our experiences, findings, and thought evolution over the course of the RBL initiative.
The first three posts of this series are available here:
In 2015, the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation launched Raising Blended Learners (“RBL”) as a statewide initiative demonstrating the ability to use blended learning strategies to improve student achievement across diverse student demographics and geographic regions in Texas. Four school districts and one charter network received up to $500,000 in grant funding (over three years) and comprehensive implementation supports after a competitive consideration process. Fifteen additional districts/networks were selected as pilot sites and received comprehensive implementation supports but no incremental funding. The 18 districts and 2 charter networks range from large urban to small rural, representing the diverse portfolio of public schools across the state of Texas. After one year of selection and design (2015), and three years of implementation (2016-2019), this diverse portfolio of school districts and charters scaled blended learning to directly impact over 50 schools, 600 teachers and 35,000 students. Afton Partners supports the RBL initiative as financial and sustainability planning experts within the comprehensive implementation supports available to the districts and networks.
Afton worked with the RBL districts to promote financial best practices, identify financial risks and ensure sites were planning for resources to be available to sustain their unique Blended Learning models for years to come, beyond the lifespan of incremental philanthropic funding and technical assistance. For the eleven (11) districts that were evaluated in detail for sustainability in 2018, most are on-track to sustain innovation beyond the grant – though risks exist for each. In our view, one of the greatest benefits of the approach RBL has taken to support sites is that sites have been planning for the FY20 budget since their blended learning plans have been contemplated during the 2015-2016 school year.
One of the most crucial elements of the initiative was the intensive academic and operational supports provided by ecosystem of technical assistance providers, which provided (among other things) teacher coaching, guidance on technology investments, school design, communications and engagement supports and cross network collaboration. The sites for RYHT were primarily Districts (18 of the 20 awardees), ranging from large urban to small rural sites. The initiative’s long-term supports proved to be a crucial element for success – not only for support, but to allow for initial results to be measured and iterations to occur.
One of the requirements to participate in the initiative was to provide a five-year financial plan reflecting sustainability on recurring public funds within five years. After many iterations of the plans from the 11 districts evaluated in detail for sustainability in 2018, and numerous iterations of blended learning models during implementation, we have been able to identify cohort-wide trends in sources and uses of funds planned for these initiatives.
Aside from one-time grant funds, sites used the long-term plans developed as part of the initiative to identify opportunities to reallocate general purpose and federal funds. Sites specifically identified “Instructional Materials Allotment” funds, as well as positions changes over time, as significant opportunities to fund incremental costs in the long-term. Sites ultimately rely upon trade-offs made within their existing budgets to fund Blended Learning in the long-term. In FY20-21, the years after the grant period, sites are planning to use general funds, IMA funds, and position reallocation to fund their RBL programs.
Ultimately, these sites identified about $112 of per pupil ongoing, recurring investments which was funded by a combination of trade-offs in instructional materials, repurposed positions and other tradeoffs, including federal fund spending priorities.
To continue to support this work in Texas, Afton recommends:
Raising Blended Learners (“RBL”) is a statewide initiative demonstrating the ability to use blended learning strategies to improve student achievement across diverse student demographics and geographic regions in Texas. Four school districts and one charter network received up to $500,000 in grant funding (over three years) and comprehensive implementation supports after a competitive consideration process; these organizations, called demonstration sites, will serve as proof points for the effective implementation of blended learning. Fifteen additional districts/networks were selected as pilot sites and are receiving comprehensive implementation supports but no incremental funding; these sites will further promote the expansion of blended learning statewide and contribute toward learning. Afton Partners is supporting this initiative as financial and sustainability planning experts within the comprehensive implementation supports available to the districts and networks.
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