Press Release

As states look ahead to how they can most effectively leverage new ESSER funds to address unfinished learning and learning acceleration,
C4RI’s research team has released a study of state-level digital learning grant programs to help guide their work, with a focus on equity of inclusion, flexibility, and support.

Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania – Nationwide

The findings of a new study conducted by the i4tl Center for Research and Innovation (C4RI) suggest the need to rethink the way state-level departments of education design, structure, administer, and measure grant success. Currently, state officials creating new program guidelines or attempting to assess the impact of existing ones often do not have a sense of how these programs have supported digital learning in other regions of the country, how similar initiatives in other states have performed over time, or of the successes and challenges encountered during these digital learning grant programs. This study by the research team at the i4tl Center for Research and Innovation was aimed at both collecting and sharing knowledge across states engaged in the same or similar work, ensuring that funding is prioritized on strategies that are shown to have impact, as well as providing state-level decision-makers with the data needed to support states in incorporating digital equity and stakeholder input into their grant program design.

The research team, made up of study sponsor Dr. Christopher Harrington, lead researcher Dr. Brenda Boyer, and researcher Dr. Tim McCormick, with research design support from Elizabeth S. LeBlanc, examined state digital learning grant programs through the collection of data highlighting program successes, areas of challenge, or situations where grant funding did not meet the desired impact.

The research team looked at six key elements or critical success factors as they reviewed state-level digital learning grant programs:

  • Innovative Policy - Are there policies in place at the state level which support the use of grant funding to increase the use of digital learning in transformative, student-centered ways?
  • Technology Infrastructure - Does the grant support, directly or indirectly, technology infrastructure such as increased broadband, ubiquitous device access, at-home network access, or expanded use of school networks?
  • Digital Content - Under the grant program, are there supports in place to help schools, districts, teachers, and students access and use high-quality digital learning tools, such as a learning management system, online or supplemental curriculum, or other technology tools leveraged to support increased student learning?
  • Human Capacity - Is the grant program designed to build the capacity of school/district leaders and teachers by providing for ongoing professional learning? Are there structures in place to support these groups in using the new technologies or tools in ways designed for maximum impact on student outcomes?
  • Data Management and Privacy - Is student progress data readily accessible to all stakeholders (families, students, teachers, and school leaders) for use in instructional decision-making? Does the grant support the development of policies and procedures to ensure that identifiable student data remains protected?
  • Equity - To what degree is the grant program designed to be equitable and accessible by all schools and districts? To what degree does the program serve or prioritize economically disadvantaged students, rural students, and/or students from historically underserved populations?

Key findings included in the newly-released policy brief include the need for flexibility as schools and districts adapt to changing needs and work to be responsive stewards of public funding; building inclusion in the form of input and iterative feedback loops into the granting process from the start; creating systems of ongoing support to level the playing field for smaller, more rural, and/or underserved districts who may have less capacity to engage in the grant application process than a wealthier or larger school or district; and by sharing success stories widely to accelerate the learning of the field and to disseminate evidence-based best practices.

“By including school and district personnel in the process of designing future digital learning grants, the impact of the grant program can be focused more on what is needed at the local level. If future grants are designed to establish or refine district- or building-wide programs, then school administrators should be involved in the grant design. If grants are designed to impact classroom practices or experiences for students, then teachers should be included,” said Dr. Christopher Harrington, project lead and study sponsor of the team’s recommendations for future grant program design.

The full study, findings and recommendations may be accessed here:

The i4tl Center for Research and Innovation would like to thank the following state-level entities for the dedication of time, effort, and passion for their work.

• Alabama State Department of Education

• Indiana Department of Education

• Maine Department of Education

• Michigan Department of Education

• Montana Office of Public Instruction

• New York State Education Department

• North Dakota Department of Public Instruction

• Utah State Board of Education

Recommended citation:
Harrington, C., Boyer, B., McCormick, T., & LeBlanc, E. (2021). National scan of statewide digital learning

grants [Policy Brief]. i4tl Center for Research and Innovation.


The i4tl Center for Research and Innovation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to accelerating change across K-12 learning communities. C4RI provides knowledge and services to children and adults through education-related research with the aim of accelerating innovation across schools and communities, creating an evidence-based foundation for growth. The organization’s agenda has three main focus areas to the work we support: bridging the gap between education research and practitioners in the field, increasing digital literacy and equity, and improving outcomes in rural educational settings. The i4tl Center for Research and Innovation research team evaluates programs with an eye towards the collection of strategic data that can highlight program successes as well as illuminating areas of challenge. Find out more about services, projects and partnerships at

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