Michigan’s new seed fund for collaborative IT projects in state and local government is moving quickly on a menu of project proposals.

The $2.5 million innovation fund approved by the Michigan Legislature in the state’s 2012 budget has resulted in nine project proposal submissions so far, officials said Tuesday, May 1. One of them, a school IT consolidation and modernization project, received tentative approval last week.

Facilitated through the state’s Department of Education, the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District and 16 other school districts want to get $250,000 in funding so they can consolidate each of their separate legacy IT systems into one modernized system. That wouldn’t be enough money to sufficiently complete the three-year project, but it would put them part way toward the end goal — integrating the districts onto one information system, finance system, longitudinal student achievement data system, special education data system, and one teacher evaluation program that works with Michigan’s existing or emerging federal data systems.

The seed fund was set up to award money to smaller-scale IT projects in amounts between $100,000 and $300,000. The funding is controlled by a board that includes John Nixon, director of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget. Nixon said the funding will help IT projects that most likely wouldn’t have taken priority over big Medicaid systems and other costly state-level projects.

“I knew there were IT projects out there that’d never see the light of day because they’ll never stand up against the 800-pound gorillas that are out there in the state budget,” Nixon said Tuesday. “And that’s primarily internal, for example, if you’re dealing with human services or health.”

The starter funding isn’t intended to cover a project’s entire cost. For example, Nixon and the board are asking the school districts to provide more details on how they will provide funding from their end. According to Michigan’s executive budget for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, $10 million has been set aside for school districts to carry out consolidation efforts.

Once the school district IT project is implemented, the districts will pay back the money they receive from the innovation fund — starting with $50,000 a year over five years. As the districts pay back the loan with interest, the money will go back into the innovation fund and should sustain the fund for years to come, Nixon said.

The other projects under consideration for funding — officials stressed that nothing has been finalized — are an electronic death registry, mobile applications and tablets for various government services, and kiosks for secretary of state services, including license plate renewals.

Each quarter the board will try to assess and approve new projects, Nixon said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.