Education funding blueprint plan

July 1, 2010
Opportunities do exist but knowing how to take advantage of additional funding is the trick

Almost 17 months has passed since the nation first started feeling the hard impact of the recession (though others may confirm that they've been feeling the impact of the recession since way before than), and the road to recovery continues to be a struggle for many. The number of families that lost homes to foreclosures only continued to grow. The country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was falling at an unbelievably fast rate. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost each month. Less than one month after taking office, President Barack Obama enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), a recovery package that in essence helped the country get back on its feet.

And with the ARRA came opportunities for funding across many sectors, including education. Funding can clearly be a struggle for most but the education space, despite the obstacles that the economy has faced and in part overcome, has improved and holds a number of opportunities. Additionally, it is essential for any school to understand that funding is available but it is not going to be handed to you. Whether K-12 or at the college or university level, it is up to the school to use the resources it has available to go out and take advantage of what funding is available in education.

"There are millions of dollars that are available from federal, state and local governments," confirmed Patrick Fiel, public safety advisor for ADT Security Services, Boca Raton, Fla. "Normally, the grants come out periodically throughout the course of a year and again you have to understand what these grants can offer and what they are used for. But schools have to be prepared. When a grant or funding becomes available, you can't just raise your hand because you're just going to be like everybody else in the audience."

Distributed funding snapshot

Of the $787 billion the ARRA of 2009 budgeted for, $275 billion was set aside specifically for contracts, grants and loans, according to the U.S. Treasury, Federal Agency Financial and Activity Reports. Of that $275 billion amount, $105 billion in funds has already been paid out.
The ARRA, Recovery Act provided approximately $100 billion to the U.S. Department of Education with the initial goal of delivering emergency education funding to States. Over $67 billion in formula grants were awarded as of September 30th, 2009.

On February 1, 2010, President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2011 Budget for the U.S. Department of Education, in which he proposed two key aspects that would affect the education sector:

Increase funding for the Department of Homeland Security: the Budget provides $44 billion - nearly a $1 billion dollar increase over the 2010 enacted level - for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Reform elementary and secondary school funding by setting high standards, encouraging innovation, and rewarding success: the budget provides a $3 billion increase in funding for K-12 education programs authorized in the ESEA, including $900 million for School Turnaround Grants, and the Administration will request up to $1 billion in additional funding if Congress successfully completes ESEA reauthorization. Together, these measures would represent the largest funding increase for K-12 ESEA programs ever requested.

So how does all of this affect the security of our nations schools? Although there are not any federal grants or grant programs specifically for those schools looking to get some sort of security system in place, there are programs available to create awareness in schools that an emergency effective awareness plan needs to be in place.

"Very few agencies have had a program that has permitted schools just to go in and buy technology," explained William Modzelewski, associate assistant deputy secretary, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS). "Part of the reasoning for us, is that research companies show that a sound effective school safety program has to be a comprehensive program which combines school security with good prevention and intervention programs and school resources."

The Department of Education's Readiness Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) program, first established in 2004 by OSDFS, focuses on schools' emergency management plans.

"Our focus has been on getting schools to really review and improve their crisis management plan," continued Modzelewski. "That program made about 700 grants funded to schools in about 700 districts in the U.S. including the majority of the large school systems. Now, in some of those, although again it's not the major focus, but a good number of those emergency management grants have dollars in there for technology. Most of the technology is on the communication side but again, the dollars go for a whole host of things and technology is one aspect of it. And that's focusing on the broad base emergency management plans schools have to have."

But although funding is available for education, some believe that it is not the amount of funding that is the issue but the way that the funding is distributed.

"Since the ARRA has boosted funding and most has already been allocated as part of previous fiscal budgets, immediate funding is not the issue, "explained Fredrik Nilsson, general manager for Axis Communications, Chelmsford, Mass. "Long term funding is a bigger issue as local economies struggle to cut budgets and make up shortfalls from State funding that came as a result of less taxes and less revenue driven by 2009 and recent economic conditions. The key here is to invest in scalable technologies so that when long-term funding becomes available, education institutions and their integrator partners can deploy the most up-to-date devices and technologies."

The "funding" breakdown

As funding varies from campus to campus, it is also important to understand that funding for education differs significantly in the K-12 market versus funding towards higher education, i.e. colleges and universities.

"The K-12 market is very challenging for those school districts because many of them don't even have enough appropriate funds to have appropriate staffing or textbook resources, materials, etc," said Tom Giannini, director of Security and Emergency Communications Marketing, SimplexGrinnell, Westminster, Mass. "So many times, in those kinds of school districts, without any assistance in the funding area, they do only what is mandated by their local jurisdiction which is fire alarm systems. If they can avail themselves of the grant sources available to a K-12 school district, and those grant sources can be at the state or federal level, than they can get those funds."

There is much more activity in the last 18 months in the K-12 education space so the schools seem to be finding more money to invest in security, according to Chris Kieta, national business development manager of Security Solutions Business Unit, Siemens Industries Inc. "Typically, these are intelligent IP video deployments," he continued. "I would say that just the number of projects you see taking place in the K-12 space supports the concept that, schools spending money on security becomes more pallatable every year to the tax payers because typically that is where that funding base is from."

So what type of projects are causing the K-12 space to have this increased amount of activity?

"The education experience, once you're on the campus, is about ease of movement in the campus, and most K-12 environments are going to be a large single building, especially in a grade school," explained Kieta. "It is typically intelligent video and in many cases IP based video systems; not a lot of card readers in this space but the programs that are being rolled out are typically district-wide. So instead of doing one school at a time, the district would have sat down and rolled out a roadmap that they believe is necessary for all of the facilities for the district, There's not a lot of opportunity for an integrator to go in and create demand. Most of the work that is done in K-12 environment is reactionary, or reactive on the part of an integrator; you wait for request for proposal to be released and you respond in the form of a bid. On the proactive selling side, in order to capture revenue in the K-12 space, demand creation is very tricky."

For the higher education level, funding continues to be a major challenge to improve safety and security.

According to Giannini, a lot of school districts also try to get funding through referendum or bond drives where they will create a bond issue and put it on the ballot. And although higher education has evolved the ability to get into those endowment funds has become a little more difficult for universities. "So even at the higher education level, they still struggle to find funding sources to do a lot of the safety and security things that a university would like," continued Giannini.

Different types of grants available in higher education include competitive grants; noncompetitive grants; grants from the Department of Homeland Security at the federal and state level; and grants from the U.S Department of Education.

One such grant program offered through the Department of Education is The Emergency Management for Higher Education (EMHE) grant program. It supports institutions of higher education (IHE) projects designed to develop, or review and improve, and fully integrate campus-based all-hazards emergency management planning efforts.

"When schools submit their application for the EMHE grant program, they have to come in with some partnerships-they have to show that they are partnering with law enforcement and the first responders in the community," explained Modzelewski.

University and college campuses consist of multiple buildings, thousands of students, faculty and staff and security needs are significantly higher. Although cost is a major concern for security personnel at such environments, campuses need to have a plan to effectively implement what security they want to put in place and where they are going to get funding to do that.

"In the higher education space, you've got more creative vehicles-[for example], introducing surcharges for student IDs so that the credential that is issued is actually a smart card as opposed to just an unintelligent, plastic credential," explained Kieta. "So if I implement a surcharge, I can defray the cost and offload it to the student population, and in doing that, position a crucial part of security application that would roll out as part of the master plan."

One area in education where we are seeing increased interest and adoption - which might leave one to believe that the schools themselves feel that this area is lacking - is in the sharing of security technology and video, according to Nilsson. "With IP surveillance, multi-campus facilities and individual school districts can access and share live video amongst key personnel, such as superintendents, principals or university presidents'. Additionally, in a crisis situation, video can be accesses by law enforcement with handheld devices in order to immediately assess the situation and gain control."

The role of the integrator

It may seem simple enough to an outsider that the role of a systems integrator in the education vertical would be to find a setting for which their solution would apply, bid on a project, and if and when they would be the winning bid, to than start the installation procedure with a client. Some integrators may feel that worrying about how to get funding for their client for a project is not their responsibility. But it's clear that for those integrators that want to be successful, it's not just about applying their solution to a specific vertical but also about understanding the space that they are working in and what challenges that sector faces.

"The integrator that is going to be successful will focus on understanding the needs of that customer," explained Kieta. "Integrators who have focused on and targeted the education space, whether it's K-12 or higher education or trade schools, if they focused on it and spent time to research and understand that market segment, they are positioned to bring solutions that apply to that market segment, assist in the demand and creation process and then capture those projects and be profitable but in many cases, it's not just about a technology deployment; it's about a marriage of policy and technology to affect the desired outcome."

School security should always be the top concern for school administrators, according to Fiel, and one of the ways that ADT attacks the challenge of schools lacking security or a security plan is through their emergency plan crisis tool: a free risk assessment that identifies a school's strengths and weaknesses to reduce their problems.

"There are solutions out there to fit a school's budget," continued Fiel. "One size fits all is not the case and sometimes it doesn't just take the technology but understanding and preparedness of policies and procedures."

For some systems integrators, taking the role of suggesting funding to a client may become a little tricky.

"I think a lot of systems integrators think about providing extra resources or funding for schools but some of the challenges that we face is if you help a school write a grant, many times you're prohibited under the law from participating in a project if they are awarded grant funds so you need to be careful on what type of assistance you can provide to an educational institution," explained Giannini. "For us, we stay on top of what grants are out there in the marketplace, where the grant sources are located and the types of grants that are available and speak with potential customers about that information but than it's up to that educational institution to get that money."

In other cases, there is sometimes nothing that the integrator can do to help funding for a school unless the integrator is invited to do so.

"That's kind of a closed group, "explained Marty Graves, president of SAS Security Alarm Service, Plano, Texas. "I get calls where they will consult with me off the record but if you're a new kid on the block, you probably won't be much of an audience. But the educational community still has funds. They can't turn their back on life safety systems so the districts have to fund those programs; they have to have those systems inspected; they have to keep them maintained and it is a bidding process that forces the districts to put this stuff back out for bid in a timely manner-so there is your opportunity."