There are several different kinds of government grants; federal entitlement grants, federal competitive grants, state grants, and federal pass-through grants administered at the state level. The most difficult of these is the competitive federal grant and a separate blog will be devoted to this thorny issue, they are so tempting to go for, but you need to know exactly what you’re doing before spending time on them.
Federal entitlement grants, like Title I and Teacher Quality (IIA) always come to your district in a package, compiled with a unified application and a set of specific allocations. This is money your district will receive, it has already been earmarked based on complex formulas that are reached by looking at demographic information at the highest levels of government. To apply for these, be sure you are working with your district leaders and your principal knows what you are doing – it may be the deed is already well in hand and that your input will be more of a problem than an asset. This unified application will have a set due date, usually sometime in the spring or summer for distribution of funds in the fall. In large districts these allocations can be quite large and consist of funds your schools rely on for assisting students in poverty and in special education.
State grants are usually dollars that have been awarded by the federal government to your state based on poverty numbers for a more localized approach to problem solving. They are competitive; if you apply there will be a healthy number of other districts vying for the same support. This should not discourage you. You might join forces with a district that has similar demographics, geography, and need. These joint projects can be very successful, but beware of potholes if the dollars are awarded to you both. You need to be sure your budget is tightly designed and controlled to reflect amounts that can be used by each district and school.
The application for state grants is a big package; you will want to align yourself with someone in the state department of education who is familiar with the programs the grant is intended to support. They are specific; they have a very rigid view of how the dollars should be spent. The application may only be an exercise in filling in the blanks with ideas you are parroting. This is what they want; you will be in lock-step with state goals. Again, don’t let this discourage you, just be sure your district will directly benefit from the agenda laid out by the grant program.
Make sure your district school committee is aware of your efforts. Go through your principal first, then your superintendent, and ask permission to present to the school committee. You may find that these mostly elected officials have tentacles that reach far into your community and beyond, they may have contacts in senate or congressional offices that can be tapped for guidance and support.
Grants are often a “be careful what you wish for” proposition. This may sound ungrateful and a bit cynical but I’ve been in the business of attracting support for school districts for a very long time. If you are applying for a direct federal grant for instance (National Science Foundation is a good example), you must be aware that so are 50 other districts in your state. There may only be two awards available per state. You will probably not receive funding the first time you apply. Be prepared to resubmit each year, it will become a challenge you either relish or dread depending on the type of person you are. I relished federal grants – I paid strict attention to the rubrics the reviewers provided that evaluated the content of our applications. There are usually three reviewers, and each one provides a scoring rubric. Be sure you understand the criticisms embedded there, and if you don’t, there is usually an email address you can use to have your question answered. Be prepared to wait for a response. Don’t take the rubrics too much to heart, but do read them carefully and learn from your mistakes.
Your state department of education has a website that provides application packages and guidance for would-be grant writers. The direct federal grants have a site too. Grants.gov has gone through many incarnations over the years, and the online application process has had serious growing pains (sound familiar?), but I hear it has greatly improved over time. In each and every case of a potential application from you or your school, you need to understand the political forces at work. There is a message buried in the application packages, the grant represents the current administration’s priorities for program improvement in the schools. Be sure you share their vision and are working hard to deliver the results they are hoping will be produced by a successful recipient.
Show this blog to your principal and others on any planning committees in your district. If your district has a grants administrator, you can be sure that person is aware of the government grants and is spending most of his/her time applying for them. They may be grateful for your input, or not. Tread carefully here.
Let us know about lessons you learn as you venture out into the world of grants.