Academic Experience

How the Utah State Board of Education is winning funding and addressing the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis has changed the world quickly for the Utah State Board of Education. “The Governor announced [the state was] going into closure on a Thursday, and they announced that schools would be soft closed on Friday afternoon,” said Sarah Young, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Utah State Board of Education (USBE). Using the Qualtrics XM Platform™ helped USBE quickly navigate COVID-19 issues and support funding requests.

Federal funding

With opportunities for COVID-19 emergency federal funding, USBE needed a flexible, credible way to estimate local needs and create a comprehensive application for the U.S. Department of Education. The problem was that new information was being received and rapid response was required during the application period. Young and her team used Qualtrics to put together a funding application for local leaders.

I’ve seen some of the other state applications, and they don’t have anything like this for identifying local education needs

Rather than asking for dollar estimates, the team used a contact list with embedded data that included possible funding ranges. Then they asked what percentage each Local Education Authority (LEA) was likely to spend on each of 12 available categories. Even as the announced funding levels changed, USBE could simply use the percentage to estimate new funding requests. The top requests were for funding to:

  1. Maintain operations and employ staff
  2. Plan and implement supplemental programs for at-risk students and
  3. Purchase additional technology for students

From the initial request to the final report took just two weeks. USBE submitted their application for emergency funding in May, before the deadline, and is confident that the specificity will help them win the funding the state needs. “I’ve seen some of the other state applications, and they don’t have anything like this for identifying local education needs,” Young said.

Remote learning

The COVID crisis has put remote learning front and center, which strains even well-prepared states like Utah. USBE wanted to know specifically where the needs were, so they asked if LEAs were providing devices, how well the students were learning, and how they were addressing WiFi access.

One of the immediate findings showed a divide between urban and rural schools. USBE keeps an internal record using Qualtrics data for leaders to show who’s doing what. “That table has been really helpful,” Young said. “We saw there was an urgent need for hotspots on the urban front. As part of that, we’ve applied for a foundation grant from one of our local companies for $50,000 to provide supplemental funds. We normally don’t apply for foundation grants at the state level, but this was based on the [specific] findings.”

Assessments and Graduation

In March, as the COVID-19 crisis was ramping up, USBE decided to waive requirements for testing and suspend the tests during the crisis. Doing so triggered a requirement for public comments on the decision. Using Qualtrics, “we put it up within an hour,” Young said.

Even more pressing was the unprecedented need to finish the year and inform graduation requirements. The state didn’t need to act directly, Young said, because the local entities already had the authority to make their own decisions. Still, many of the state’s individual LEAs were asking what to do, so USBE quickly fielded a “COVID-19 Graduation Impact Survey.”

We can say very specifically what our needs are and we have a data set that supports that

The findings allowed USBE to educate the LEAs on existing policies and flexibility. It also turned up some specific challenges that wouldn’t have been clear otherwise. Initially, Young said, many local districts were looking to implement a pass/fail system, but that would have had major implications not just for GPA’s but for eventual eligibility for college athletics. “If you translate a grade to pass/fail, it automatically translates to two points, which is a D. That had the opportunity to be really negative on our students who are athletes, and it was unintended,” Young said. This finding from the Graduation Impact Survey “allowed us to have a conversation with NCAA, along with some other states, and they’ve changed their policy for the upcoming year,” she said.

Whether for funding or for helping navigate the COVID-19 crisis, the ability to gather data quickly and act has been essential. The research shows that the K-12 system will use its funding and will still have a $27M need, Young said. “When we can say very specifically what our needs are and we have a data set that supports that, it positions us to make a better case.”


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