What To Do When the Money Runs Out: Leveraging Data as a Means to Sustainability

Eliza Rothstein, C’16, is passionate about exploring the intersection of philosophy and education in order to make education engaging and empowering for students of all backgrounds. As a recipient of funding from Bendheim Fellows Social Impact Fund, she spent her summer at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education shells out over $37 billion in grants for K-12 education.

As the Department’s strategic test kitchen, the Office of Innovation and Improvement gives a portion of this money to school districts and education organizations that are piloting creative approaches to education. With 25 discretionary grant programs, the Office of Innovation and Improvement funds local and state agencies as they plan, develop, and implement data-driven strategies to decrease the achievement gap and improve learning quality.

Some of the administration’s noteworthy programs, like Race To the Top-District and Promise Neighborhoods, are run out of this office.

But these are just two of the hundreds of initiatives that receive OII funds each year. For many programs like these, federal grant funding is a needed catalyst to develop organizational infrastructure and expand reach. Though important for building a launching pad for organizations, the grants are not meant to support initiatives forever. Most grant recipients receive money for one to three years, with a maximum of five years of funding.

So what do you do when the money runs out?

Before they are cut off from government resources, these programs have to find alternate sources of funding through donors and investors to keep their programs alive. The mission: figure out how to translate the magic that happens inside the classroom into a measurable, concise pitch for additional funds.

Over the summer the department held an Investing in Innovation summit, dedicating a full weekend to reflect on the year and share best practices. I enjoyed sitting in on one session that centered on dissemination and data distribution strategies. Chief among the session’s attendees was a New York-based organization with a mission to bring technology into the classroom. We learned that this organization partners with a local tech company that supplies the organization with the devices and technical support necessary to introduce the participating K-12 students to new ways of learning. 

Using this ed-tech partnership as a case study, we brainstormed ways that organizations could leverage data to forge stronger, longer-lasting relationships. Many suggested diversifying the channels through which it shared its data; not only should the organization use data on its media platforms to demonstrate impact, but they should also make it available to their tech partner. With a new supply of data, the tech company could demonstrate the worth of its products to its own client-base, generating positive publicity and the outward establishment of an active philanthropic arm. It’s a classic win-win scenario.

But this is just one example of using innovative strategies to pursue financial sustainability. Though photographs and videos tug public heartstrings, it is data that drives investment in the long term.

Eliza Rothstein Eliza Rothstein is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying humanistic philosophy and political science. Eliza was the recipient of funding from Bendheim Fellows Social Impact Fund, which supports social impact projects and activities identified by recipients of the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program.  Ashley Bittner, WG’13, was the Bendheim Fellow leading this project.