Often, in the face of a tight budget, school communications programs aren’t financially prioritized and school communicators are left looking for funds on their own. This can be challenging. Have you thought about using the monies available through Title I funds for school communications?
Communications–specific funding programs are few and far between. E-rate, once a reliable funding source for electronic communications, has shifted its priorities to wifi network building. School districts are seeking alternate ways to fund communications. Despite the fact that federal funding for schools is dwindling, and has been for years, there is still money to be found. It just requires a little creativity – not only in finding the funding, but also in choosing where and how to use it.
School communications professionals are responsible for securing funding for their programs and using those funds effectively. The end of the academic school year signals the end of Title I funds for that academic year. This time crunch creates a use-it-lose-it deadline pressures for many schools, so why not think about putting these dollars toward improving your digital communications?
There are a variety of creative ways to utilize this funding, but first, you have to find out if your Title I funds are eligible for flexible spending.
Title I Funds for your communications?
Title I funds are financial assistance packages provided by the Department of Education to state educational agencies (SEAs) via School Improvement Grants (SIGs). The state then allocates these funds in sub-grants to districts with the greatest need.
This money is legally authorized by Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Schools have two model options for applying Title I funds: the school-wide model and the target assistance model. Keep in mind, the allowable use of Title 1 funds vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your district Title I administrator before budgeting or spending any Title I monies for your communications.
If your school operates under the target assistance model, however, it will be difficult to apply any Title I funds for school communications. The wording says it all: with the target assistance model, the assistance provided by Title I funds must be targeted to failing or at-risk students. In other words, funds can’t be used for general programs that serve all students.
The flexibility of school-wide spending
Schools following the school-wide model have abundant flexibility in determining how to allocate Title I funds. This flexibility is often overlooked or misunderstood by school officials, resulting in an abundance of funds that are used in a targeted way when they could be applied to school-wide improvements.
In order to use Title I funds for school communications, Congress requires a school to pass the supplemental funds test. Passing the test is simple: the district simply has to prove that they did not withhold funds from a school because that school received Title I funding. As long as the school was granted all of its state and local money—however the district chooses to calculate that number—then the Title I funds are considered supplemental and therefore eligible for highly flexible spending.
Community and parent connection
Community and parent engagement are clearly outlined as a goal of Title I funding, because it’s virtually undisputed that this engagement is critical to student success. What better way to establish and encourage this engagement than with web communications?
Here is the magic formula: better school communications means better parent engagement which means better student performance. When one recognizes the outcomes of improved school communications, it becomes clear that these programs can definitely qualify for public funding.
An effective web communications strategy will meet parents where they are, increasing the likelihood that they can be involved in their child’s school experience. Social media, mobile apps, notifications, a user-friendly website—all of these communications elements, when used to their full potential, can draw in and maintain parent engagement.
This connection allows you to use public funds for the many facets of your school communications program.
Using Title I funds for school communications
Once you’ve established that you can, in fact, use Title I funding for your school communications program, here are some ideas for how to go about it:
1. Revamp your website
A beautiful, mobile-friendly website can stimulate community engagement. It might encourage someone to RSVP to a school event or sign up for a parent teacher conference. By improving your school website, you can motivate your community to get involved.
2. Involve more people
One district created a highly effective public relations program by paying school liaisons a small stipend. The program revolutionized their public outreach, earning them an NSPRA Gold Achievement Award. Funds could potentially be used to support school outreach by providing incentives.
3. Social media
Use Title I funds to bring in a social media specialist to ramp up your social media. Parents are on social media, so schools should be, too. An improved social media strategy could mean dramatic increases in engagement and sharing all the great stories about your school.
4. Email marketing software
Email campaigns are an excellent way to reach busy parents. The right tools, such as a high-quality email marketing software, can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your email strategy. Email is still one of the most effective ways for schools to engage parents.
5. Video and camera equipment
Some solid production equipment, such as a new camera or microphone, can allow you to create better image and video content for your communications. Improving the quality of your content is likely to improve engagement.
If you’re really unsure about the most effective way to connect with your school community, a parent survey can provide you with guidance.
It doesn’t stop at Title I
If your school doesn’t qualify for Title I funds, all is not lost. Again, a little creativity and research can go a long way towards finding cash to improve your school communications program. If you do qualify for Title I, you can combine that money with other public funds for larger initiatives, but it’s not mandatory.
Schools and their employees need to break the mold with funding resources and find creative ways to allocate their money. It’s time to stop waiting for cash to fall into your lap. Go out, find it, and make it work for you.
Emma Castleberry is an education writer and contributor to the Campus Suite Academy blog. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.