NewSchools Venture Fund Offers Grants for Tech. Projects in Special Education

Staff Writer

The NewSchools Venture Fund is offering up to $1.5 million in grant funding for education tech products designed to support special education students, according to a recent announcement from the nonprofit organization.

The NewSchools Ignite Special Education Challenge is the latest funding opportunity through the NewSchools Ignite program, an ed tech accelerator focusing on market gaps in innovation.

Previous Ignite challenges have addressed science, middle and high school math, and English Language Learning.

The Special Education Challenge will fund tools targeted to special education students in prekindergarten through grade 12. Funds awarded will range from $50,000-$150,000, according to the announcement. In addition to funding, Challenge awardees will also have access to management assistance and community collaboration with other funded companies. Applications are due by Sunday, March 12.

NewSchools seeks applications from companies and nonprofit tech developers who meet the organization’s diligence and investment criteria. Virtual semi-finalist interviews will take place Wednesday, March 29 – Friday, April 14, and finalists will be notified by Friday, April 28, as noted in the Challenge description.

Through market research with educators and research experts, NewSchools, which describes itself as a “venture philanthropy,” identified special education as “nexus point” in the market, said Debbie Veney, a spokeswoman for the NewSchools Venture Fund, in an interview. Large disparities exist between students with disabilities and students without disabilities in graduation and dropout rates, and in workforce participation, yet ed-tech tools to address these disparities are scarce, said Veney.

The market for products focused on special needs students is “underdeveloped” Veney said, and the organization saw a “particular opportunity to produce pretty significant changes in that population.”

NewSchools is most interested in projects that address four “critical areas of need” outlined in the announcement, said Veney. These areas are:

  • Making rigorous academic content accessible to a wide range of students
  • Encouraging increased communication and collaboration of diverse learners
  • Supporting skills related to executive functioning and agency, and
  • Using data to empower students, families, and educators

“We are interested in specific tools that would help students take ownership of their own learning, and specifically, making rigorous academic content accessible to a wide range of people who learn differently,” said Veney.

The NewSchools official also envisions new opportunities for data collection and personalized learning. Veney said that NewSchools is interested in tools that can help students and teachers set short-term goals, give positive reinforcement, and provide them with “real-time feedback.”

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