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CA Elementary Math and Sci. PL Initiative RFA FAQs

California Elementary Mathematics and Science Professional Learning Initiative (CEMSPLI) Frequently Asked Questions.
California Elementary Mathematics and Science Professional Learning Initiative

This year’s competition asks for professional learning proposals that help collaborative teams of elementary educators—teachers and their school-site administrator—to improve instructional practice and leadership in mathematics and science.

GENERAL QUESTIONS
What is the purpose of the Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) State Grants Program?

The ITQ State Grants Program administered by the California Department of Education (CDE) is part of Title II, Part A of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. The overall purpose of Title II, Part A is to increase the academic achievement of all students by helping schools and districts improve teacher and principal quality and ensure that all teachers are highly qualified. A portion of Title II, Part A funding is allocated to State Agencies for Higher Education (SAHE) like CDE to fund competitive grants to partnerships involving colleges and universities. These partnerships use the funds to conduct professional learning activities in core academic subjects to ensure that teachers, highly qualified paraprofessionals, and (if appropriate) principals have subject-matter knowledge in the academic subjects they teach and that they are also using effective teacher strategies to support student achievement in those subjects.

What are allowable activities that may be funded with an ITQ grant?

There are two major areas of allowable activities with specific elements:

  • Professional learning activities in core academic subjects to ensure that:
    • Teachers, highly qualified paraprofessionals, and principals (if appropriate) have subject-matter knowledge in the academic subjects the teachers teach; and
    • Principals have the instructional leadership skills to effectively work with teachers in helping students master core academic subjects.
  • Developing and providing assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and their teachers and related staff in providing sustained, high-quality professional learning that:
    • Ensure those individuals can use challenging state academic content standards, student achievement standards and state assessments to improve instructional practices and student academic achievement;
    • May include intensive programs to prepare some school personnel to provide professional development as described above to others in their schools; and
    • May include activities of partnerships involving one or more LEAs, their schools, and one or more institutions of higher education (IHE) to improve teaching and learning at low-performing schools.

Overall, the SAHE-administered portion of the ITQ State Grants program is designed to facilitate the involvement of IHEs in providing high quality, sustained professional learning, making sure that subject matter and pedagogy expertise are available to high-need LEAs in order to carry out the purposes of the Title II, Part A of the federal NCLB Act of 2001.

Where can I find the standards?

The state-adopted academic content standards are available on the Californian Department of Education (CDE) Content Standards Web page. The state-adopted curriculum frameworks that provide guidance regarding implementing the standards are available on the CDE Curriculum Framework and Instructional Materials Web page.

What grades may be served in the California Elementary Mathematics and Science Professional Learning Initiative (CEMSPLI)?

The 2015 CEMSPLI requires projects to provide professional learning opportunities to teams of kindergarten through grade six (K–6) elementary teachers and their principal.

Our proposal will work with teacher leaders (TLs). What kind of evidence should we provide to demonstrate the commitment of the LEAs to allowing TLs to participate throughout the life of the project?

CDE staff understands that applicants cannot guarantee that particular teachers or TLs will remain at the target school throughout the life of the project. We do expect proposers to secure a commitment from their partner LEA, preferably through a letter or memorandum of agreement stating that every effort will be made to leave TLs in place at their schools throughout the life of the project and to immediately replace TLs who may move due to unforeseeable circumstances.

What is the expected start date for this grant? Why is the start date subject to change?

CDE intends to award the grants in time to begin activities by January 1, 2016. However, there may be unavoidable delays in the grant review process that make it impossible to begin funding grants by that date. In the event of a delay in awarding grants, we plan to fund the grants as close to this schedule as possible.

NOTE: Grant awards are contingent on continued funding by Congress and subject to any changes that may be made in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also referred to as NCLB Act of 2001.

Can we submit a proposal that provides professional learning for both mathematics and science?

Yes. 

What do the acronyms used by this program mean?

The following are the acronyms most frequently used in the Improving Teacher Quality grant competition:

ED – U.S. Department of Education (federal funding agency)
IHE – Institution of Higher Education (public and private colleges and universities)
ITQ – Improving Teacher Quality (Title II, Part A federally funded state grants program)
LEA – Local Educational Agency (school districts and county offices of education; for ITQ grants, only districts may be a mandated partner)
NCLB – the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (federal law that funds elementary and secondary education programs)
IRB – Institutional Research Board
RFA – Request for Application (notification and requirements to compete for an ITQ grant)
SAHE - State Agencies for Higher Education

Can we provide college credit to teacher participants?

College credit may be provided to teacher participants as an alternative to stipends or substitute costs, so long as the college credit is for activities that are part of the professional learning offered by the project. While the purpose of the grant may not be to advance teachers to additional degrees, earning credit toward a degree (except a pre-service degree) is an acceptable byproduct of a grant award.

Other than current teachers, who else may be served by these projects? What about principals, paraprofessionals, and pre-service teachers?

The ITQ projects are intended primarily to support people who are currently teachers and their principals. Projects are especially encouraged to provide professional development for principals in the targeted schools to better prepare them to lead whole school reform efforts. They may be included in professional development activities and project data collection, and help to build teamwork within their schools. Projects may not use grant funds to support professional development for principals that is required for administrative advancement. Paraprofessionals may also be included if they are preparing to be teachers, based on federal guidelines in Section G-18 of the Title II, Part A Non-Regulatory Guidance External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

However, paraprofessionals not preparing to be teachers, and pre-service teachers who are not paraprofessionals, are not eligible to be supported by grant funding. They may be involved in the project, but the costs of serving them must be paid for out of other funding sources.

Can after-school intervention be part of the project?

It can be a component of a project, but grant funds may not be used to support professional learning of after-school staff who are not credentialed teachers or who work off-site. After-school staff may be included in activities and may play a role in a well-conceived professional learning plan, but unless they are full-time teachers at the treatment school, matching funds must be utilized to pay for any direct costs their participation will incur.

Could we involve the campus Institutional Research Board (IRB) as a system of checks and balances?

The IRB on your campus is not expected to be a participant in your grant. You will have to assure that your evaluation research is submitted to and approved by the IRB. Suggestions and recommendations made by the IRB may help you identify and address problems in the research plan, which can serve as a form of checks and balances. 

In addition to IRB approval, do we need to get parent permission?

You should be able to develop an evaluation plan that will meet with campus IRB approval without having any need to seek parental permission if you plan to use only aggregated statistical data on students. Student data provided by the LEA must not include student identifier information and be provided in a form that does not permit links to any particular student. If your research design includes student interviews or similar data collection, or it deals with students enrolled in an academy model, you may need to secure parental permission. IRB requirements, in general, will be determined by the research design.

APPLICATION QUESTIONS
How could a LEA that meets the “high need” criteria related to poverty but has less than two percent of teachers who are not teaching in the academic subjects or grade levels that the teachers were trained to teach, OR an LEA where there is a high percentage of teachers with emergency, provisional, or temporary certification or licensing, be determined as eligible?

If the LEA’s data is borderline (i.e. 99% of teachers are highly qualified), a case could be made using school-level data in the partnership school(s), such as the number of teachers teaching outside of their subject area at the district or school; or the number of teachers with an emergency credential. If the percentages are higher in the school(s), we will consider it in determining the partnerships eligibility. This information must be included in the Notice of Intent and the Needs Assessment portion of the application.

May an institution with a currently funded ITQ Project apply for a new ITQ grant? May an institution apply for more than one project at the same time?

This is not recommended. The ITQ State Grants program tries to balance the need to widely distribute limited program funds with ensuring the selection of the highest quality projects. Therefore, our rules permit applications to be submitted in situations where all of the above issues apply. If an institution (college or university) wishes to apply for more than one project in a single competition, a separate Letter of Intent must be submitted for each project. An institution that already has an ITQ grant may apply for additional grants in new competition cycles. If one institution submits more than one proposal, bear in mind that it may add an additional layer of competition for those two proposals. If there are more proposals deemed fundable than CDE is able to fund, it would be unlikely that two from one institution would be funded. Also, in this case, geographic distribution of awards would be a factor.

May a project director lead more than one ITQ project?

No.

In addition to page limits in the narrative, is there a page limit for items included as attachments?

Attachments must adhere to the page limits for specific items and should not include additional materials to those described in the Application Instructions. The only exception would be the inclusion of one-page letters of commitment from partner agencies (general letters of support from partners or other agencies should NOT be included). Also, margins, type size, and page limits in the main body of the narrative must be observed, although the inclusion of short tables in single-spaced fonts is permitted. A general rule to be observed is not to overload the proposal—excess pages will be discarded and not considered by readers.

Is the ITQ State Grants Program highly competitive, or do most qualified applicants receive funding?

It is in the interest of quality projects to have as competitive a process as possible, but the number of proposers who submit in each round depends on many circumstances, most beyond the control of the program. CDE does not know how many applications it will receive. The submission of Notices of Intent provides a maximum number, but generally, not all those who file a Notice actually complete an application.

PARTNERSHIP QUESTIONS
Do you dictate the level of involvement of the second department?

We do not dictate a specific level of involvement for any of the partners, but the partnership and collaboration should be genuine. The involvement of each partner should be a coherent part of the overall intervention in the school and should not be tacked on as an afterthought.

Can a Subject Matter Project or a university-based institute be a mandated partner?

These types of entities may participate as a mandated partner ONLY if they are part of a College or School of Education and/or of a College or School of Arts and Sciences. The project director may be from such an entity if it is associated with a mandated partner IHE. The application must be signed by the university administrator who represents the School of Education or Arts and Sciences, not the director of the institute or project. If this entity is not officially part of the required IHE schools, it may still participate and may even play a lead role, but the mandated partners must also be included.

Do both IHE partners have to be from the same institution?

No. It is permissible for a partner IHE school or division that prepares teachers and principals and a partner IHE school of arts and sciences to be from separate IHEs. However, for this initiative, the administrator preparation program must be with the same IHE as the school or department of education partner. Additional IHEs may be optional partners.

Can a community college be a mandated partner?

Generally, community colleges do not meet the federal requirement as mandated partners unless they provide teacher preparation that leads to a credential—a condition that few California community colleges meet. They also do not qualify as arts and science partners because they do not award baccalaureate degrees. However, community colleges may be additional partners in any project, may be designated as project lead by the partnership, and may even receive the project award. Their participation is encouraged.

Can a county office of education be a mandated partner?

According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), because a county office of education is not the same kind of funding recipient as a school district and because its ”high-need” status cannot be determined through U.S. Census data, it would not be considered by ED as one of the three NCLB required mandated partners.

May an IHE outside of California participate in a grant?

There is no prohibition against a non-California IHE participating as a partner in a grant, even as a mandated partner (either education or arts and science). However, the grant will be awarded only to a California-based IHE.

Are private schools eligible to participate in partnerships?

Yes, both private Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) and teachers or principals in private kindergarten through grade six (K–6) schools may participate. Whether or not a private IHE participates, there must be two mandated IHE partners—a school or division that prepares teachers and principals, and a school of arts and sciences. Private K–6 school teachers and principals may also participate to the extent that the partner LEA uses funds to provide for professional development for teachers and others. (Additional information on private school participation is available in the Title II, Part A Non-Regulatory Guidance, Section G External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

May a partnership change the designated “high-need” LEA between the submission of the Notice of Intent and the submission of the Request for Application (RFA)?

Yes, it is allowable for a partnership to change the designated “high-need” LEA between the Notice of Intent and the submission of the RFA. However, the partnership must have a “high-need” LEA as a partner and notify the CDE prior to making the change.

May charter schools participate in the grant? May a charter school serve as the high-need LEA?

Charter schools that are under the jurisdiction of a participating school district (assuming that district or another within the proposed partnership is a “high-need” LEA) are definitely eligible to participate. Schools chartered under the authority of the state or a County Office of Education may participate, but the County Office may not be considered the “high-need LEA” partner. Charter schools that are direct-funded and meet California state requirements as independent LEAs may be considered for participation as the “high-need” LEA if they meet the eligibility requirements.

Which partner receives the funding?

Only California IHEs may be designated as grantees. This includes colleges and universities in the University of California (UC) system, California State University (CSU) system, and accredited private universities within the state. Funds awarded to IHEs may be provided to other members of the partnership as subgrants or through contracts or interagency agreements. No single partner in the grant may benefit from more than 50% of the funds in the grant (see additional information under Funding Questions).

Are there specific rules for the structure of a partnership?

There is no standard design by which partnerships must be structured, except an eligible partnership must include the four mandated partners. The partnership needs to have a coherent plan that prioritizes service to teachers and principals serving high-need students, but it may organize itself and designate its leadership to best meet project requirements.

What happens between the submission of the grants and announcements of awards?

The proposals submitted will be distributed to peer reviewers drawn from university, kindergarten through grade twelve, and evaluation backgrounds. Each proposal will be read and scored by several reviewers. Prior to awarding funds, readers will convene in panels to identify all proposals that may be fundable. That process will result in a final list of recommended grantees that will go to the ITQ program Administrator, who will submit recommendations to the CDE for approval of the grant awards. If necessary, CDE staff may negotiate budget changes with selected projects before the award is finalized.

Is the Project Year Schedule flexible?

No, the Project Year Schedule specified in the final award is not flexible.

Do rejected proposals receive any feedback?

Yes, CDE does provide summaries of the readers’ comments upon request. This usually happens sometime after proposers are notified that they have not advanced to the next stage.

FUNDING AND BUDGET QUESTIONS
Are matching funds required?

There is no requirement to provide matching funds for ITQ grants. However, contributions of matching funds and/or in-kind services from the applicant institution, its partners, or outside sources are strongly encouraged as a commitment to demonstrating project sustainability. These contributions may also gain extra credit in the scoring. One potential source of contributions is the LEA’s Title II, Part A formula grant allocation. Information on amounts allocated to California school districts is available on the No Child Left Behind Title II Part A Categorical Programs Web page.

Is there a limit on the amount of subcontracts?

No. There is, however, a limit on the indirect costs that can be taken on subcontracts. 

What is the 50 percent rule regarding funding?

The ITQ State Grants Program requires that no single partner in the grant may benefit from more than 50% of the funds in the grant (since each project requires at least four partners, this should not be difficult). Projects will be expected to estimate the distribution of funding benefit when submitting their proposed budgets and to file annual reports and a final report of how they have adhered to the rule. More discussion of the rule can be found in Section F-29 of the Non-Regulatory Guidance for Title II, Part A issued by the U.S. Department of Education External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

What is the sponsoring institution responsible for?

The sponsoring institution is responsible for ensuring that:

  • Its audit and accounting procedures are in compliance with applicable federal statutes and rules.
  • It supplies the ITQ State Grants Program with a copy of the audit report for the fiscal years in which grant monies were expended, upon request.
Can we use these funds to pay tuition for participants?

These funds may not be used to pay tuition for pre-service teachers, but a sufficient case could be made to pay for a limited amount of tuition for teachers who are active participants in the intervention. Note: if use of funds is proposed for tuition, it should be only one component of a coherent professional development plan, not the reason for the intervention. Payment of either tuition or stipends may be allowed, but not both.

How will projects be evaluated for cost effectiveness? Is there a specific amount per teacher day that is too much?

There is no hard-and-fast rule for determining that a project is too expensive for the value it produces. However, your goal should be to deliver cost-effective service, not to maximize the amount of grant funding received. 

Questions: ITQ SAHE | itqsahe@cde.ca.gov | 916-445-7331 
Last Reviewed: Monday, March 27, 2017
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