Long before the pandemic forced schools to take learning online – the state of Utah had been working to open up opportunities for digital teaching and learning to all Utah students.
Initially, Utah’s efforts focused on closing the digital divide, providing devices, access to broadband, and high-speed networks throughout the state.
In 2016, the state legislature passed SB 222, which created the Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) Program. Districts and charter schools are required to create a 5-year plan for Digital Teaching and Learning to be approved by USBE to qualify for the funds. Before the plan was implemented, the State Board of Education and a task force of stakeholders from across the state developed Utah’s Master Plan: Essential Elements for Technology Powered Learning. master plan to outline the goals of the DTL program:
“Utah has a powerful opportunity to act, and to harness technology as an extraordinary tool to our benefit… To move all students to high levels of learning powered by technology, all students will need access to infrastructure, devices, and applications that can be most effectively incorporated into learning… With teachers serving as architects of learning combined with the knowledge to effectively integrate technology, schools can provide students with a pipeline to explore real world concepts, interact with real world experts, and analyze and solve real world problems.”
SB 222 appropriated $10 million ongoing to the program and $5 millioin in one-time funding. That funding supported grants in 65 school districts and charter schools across the state. The focus of the grants is on access to technology, providing improved professional learning for teachers and administrators, and technical support to keep everything working properly
Subsequent annual budgets including for this school year have provided an additional $20 million per year to the program to continue the focuse on using technology to strengthen and deepen learning in Utah schools. A total of $165 million has been appropriated. Currently all 41 schools districts and 61 charter schools participate in the program. The DTL program supports the Utah State Board of Education’s Stratgic Plan and these initiatives: Utah’s Portrait of a Graduate, the Personalized Competency-Based Learing program (PCBL), and Utah’s Effective Teaching Standards (UETS). The consistent funding through the grant program has made it possible for LEAs to both plan and innovate how to best use technology to support teaching and learning using both state provided and local education funds.
The legislation makes clear that this is a state-funded program:
Section 10 states: There is no federal funding, federal requirement, federal education agreement, or national program included or related to this state adopted program. Any inclusion of federal funding, federal requirement, federal education agreement, or national program shall require separate express approval as provided in Title 53E, Chapter 3, Part 8, Implementing Federal or National Education Programs.
On the merits of the program, Rick Gaisford, Educational Technology Specialist for the Utah State Board of Education said: “It was critical for Utah to provide districts with dedicated digital learning funds through this policy to strategically advance personalized education that empowered teachers and students with more ubiquitous, effective and flexible instructional opportunities.”
Schools and districts are using DTL funding to meet a variety of goals:
The Ogden City District is an urban district enrolling approximately 10,600 students. The district is also a member of the Future Ready Schools network. Through the FRS assessment, Ogden had set a goal of helping each student be prepared “for high school graduation, college, careers, and life.” Specifically, the district has designated the $1.3 million in DTL grant funding for
- creation of an online learning system for Ogden School District students,
- implementation of a personal device program (1:1) across all schools, and
- the refinement and enhancement of our district’s professional learning pathways.
The Kane School District is a small (1,300 students), rural district. The district had implemented 1:1 technology for all students and is a member of the Future Ready Schools network. The $315,000 in DTL funding is designed to focus on developing online digital curriculum that will provide students and families with access to “any time, anywhere” learning.