If you have rural schools within your district, learn how to write a winning RUS DLT Grant to help support them.
As of the 2010 Census, 60 million people, or about 19% of the population, live in rural areas. Rural US Distance Learning and Telehealth Grants (RUS DLT), are administered by the USDA to help these areas. Its funds are intended to extend access to the knowledge and opportunity from larger metropolitan areas into less populated areas. These projects improve outcomes and bolster economies by supporting students and their communities.
Grant money is a good way to supplement education budgets, but can be time-consuming and frustrating. This article outlines what the administrators of these and other General Field Reviewers (GFR) need to approve your grant. Follow the tips and tricks below from grant writers and USDA GFRs to improve your odds of winning an RUS DLT grant.
What Distance Learning Grant Reviewers Look For
The RUS DLT grants focus on the importance of “real-time” instruction. We typically think of that as person to person video conferencing, or live streaming. However, it could also mean the real-time transmission of data, like test questions or a heart monitor – anything that could be seen as “learning from a distance.” In your grant proposal, you need to show that the equipment purchased with your grant will be used for real time interaction or data collection more than 50% of the time.
Know Your Score
RUS DLT Grant eligibility is scored based on a number of objective and subjective criteria, with 110 maximum possible points.
- Rurality (40 points)
The degree of rurality is determined by the 2010 census population and its relationship to adjacent urban areas. Multiple end-user sites are averaged to determine your overall score. A rurality score of 20 is the required minimum.
- Economic Need (30 points)
These points are awarded based on an average of Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) percentage for the counties in which each end-user site is located. Scores range from 30-0.
- Special Consideration (10 point)
Special programs that are already in place demonstrate need. The programs that receive points change every year. Previous categories include STEM education programs, opioid or other substance use disorder treatment programs, and opportunity zones. Complete the Special Consideration worksheet and fully explain them in the Executive Summary and Needs and Benefits sections of the application.
Subjective Criteria – Needs and Benefits (Up to 30 Points)
- Need for Services
Grant reviewers need to know the economic, geographic, educational, and healthcare challenges facing the community of this project. Documentation should be included to support the claims.
- Benefits Derived from Services
This is the where you project can shine, showing how the proposed project will help resolve the problems identified. Benefits should be quantifiable goals (i.e., the number of students projected to take new course, the number of patients to receive care, time save seeking medical treatment, etc.).
- Local Community Involvement
Include participation by residents and organizations in the planning and development of the project. Documentation of meetings and support materials, including contributions from stakeholders should show how the program will impact the greater community, economic development, etc. Describe long-range effects that will ripple out to the community from the project.
The Most Important Grant Application Components
The best way to guarantee winning Federal funds (or any grant): FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.
Before a grant is even reviewed, if sections or worksheets are missing, the grant is immediately disqualified. These worksheets may seem redundant, but they help the GFRs with the review process. They can also help you to develop your grant proposal.
- Site Worksheet
- Rurality Worksheet
- Economic Need Worksheet
- Matching Worksheet
- Special Consideration Worksheet
- Budget Worksheet
Your application comes with a check list to make sure you’ve got all the sections and worksheets. Make sure each section is complete before checking the box, including documentation and signatures from the appropriate stakeholders.
Educate Your Reviewer
Keep in mind that your GFR doesn’t particularly know about education, distance learning and the technology you use. They recommend spending the most time developing your competitive narrative sections. Be as specific as you need to be to help them understand the technology, what you’re trying to accomplish, and why it should happen.
- Executive Summary
If you are missing something in your executive summary, it’s immediately a “fail.”
- Scope of Work
- The scope of work should include a budget for all capital expenditures, with line item costs for approved purposes, for both the grant funds and matching funds for the project.
- Supply as much detail as possible for the reviewer to make an informed decision on your request. Attach as much documentation as necessary.
- Consider that the grant and project process can take up to 18 months. The current purchase price – or even the current technology options available – is likely to change. Budget using a higher price point or add a few extra units. You can always scale back, but you can’t get more grant money.
- Be sure to include your overall budget.
- Financial Information and Sustainability
This doesn’t have to be a full audit, but a summary of your vision and how you’re going to support it.
- Statement of Experience
This is a simple statement of previous grant experience. This requirement is to gauge the amount of support time needed for your grant administration and fulfillment.
- Telecommunications System Plan
This is a critical piece to your application as you need to understand how your distance learning program is going to work within the existing telecommunications system. The level of detail in this description depends on the needs of your district and what you have in place.
- Describe the capabilities of the current telecommunications terminal equipment, including a description of the specific equipment which will be used to deliver the proposed service.
- Include a complete listing of the proposed telecommunication equipment, facilities, interactive video equipment, computer hardware and software systems, etc., that further the purpose of the grant.
- Reach out to vendors who would be working with this system to verify all the equipment and components necessary for the project. Document discussions with those various technical resources, including consultants, vendors, engineers, etc. Include descriptions of consultations with telecommunications carriers.
- Show a map of the proposed system overlaid with a geographic map of the service area showing all sites. (A Google map with pins is sufficient.)
Begin With The End in Mind
By far the biggest reason that applications are denied is a lack of proper registration. While you’re waiting for the grant window to open, get your organization setup to do business with the US Government, in the following order:
- Create, Register, and Update SAM
Create a SAM (System for Award Management) account. You must be registered in SAM prior to submitting your application. Keep in mind it can take two weeks or more for your application to be approved and your SAM account to become active. Also, put a reminder in your calendar to update or renew your SAM account every 6 months.
- Register for Grants
To apply for the grant you need to be registered with Grants.gov. This portal / app has everything you need to know about available grants, the grant process, and tracking your grant.
RUS DLT Grant Resources
Educational grants are a complicated and time-consuming, yet necessary part of funding our school system. Here are a few resources to help you navigate on your RUS DLT grant journey.
- Download the DLT Eligibility Guidelines
- DLT Program Website – If it says “closed” work on your registrations and grants and be ready to submit when the window opens (generally 45-60 days).
- 2020 Grant Application Guide – Rules and criteria change yearly, so use this as a reference.
- Your General Field Representative (GFR) – Applicants may contact their GFR for technical assistance up to 15 days prior to the closing date of the application window. The DLT team members really want to help you, but be mindful that this is just one of several grant programs these agents administer.
- Contact DiscoverVideo – DiscoverVideo is an eligible RUS DLT vendor with a 95% grant award success rate. We work with you to write your distance learning grant and make sure you get the most bang for your funding dollars. Let us help you create your shopping list of technology you need for your remote, in-classroom, and blended situations, for right now, and the future.
This article was written based on notes taken from a webinar presented by Kathleen Harrell, Partner at Salient Health Solutions and Barrett & Harrell Health Law, and Shekinah Pepper, Field Staff Branch Chief, Telecommunications Program – Rural Utilities Service, Rural Development, United State Department of Agriculture (USDA).
DiscoverVideo is a US-based leading software, hardware, and services provider for broadcasting and delivering live and on-demand video, presentations, and digital signage. We focus on the enterprise where network citizenship and security are crucial. We support all five screens and a complete video ecosystem. Our customers include educational institutions, schools, corporations, and local, state, and federal governments.