“Could Do” not “Would Do”
In 2010, the Newark Public Schools were given a unique opportunity to try to answer that question. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), in a moment of great largesse, provided the failing school system with funds to turn it around. He hoped he could set the stage for replicable, systemic change. He also hoped that his dollars would be matched with other funds. Like other billionaires (Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind), he knew he was in a unique position to step in to help. Kudos to all who try.
My favorite (and most successful) example of this is the $800,000 gift from Stephen Colbert to the teachers of South Carolina (his home state). He auctioned off pieces from the set of his show “The Colbert Report” (last episode was December 18, 2014) to raise the funds. I believe the success came from the vehicle he used for distribution. In full disclosure, he’s on the Board of the crowdfunding site “Donorschoose.org”, and this was the conduit for his generosity. He promised to fund all South Carolina teacher requests for mini-grants. Teachers log in to the site and briefly describe a project they would love to implement if money could be found. An average project costs $689.00. iPads, band instruments, art supplies, and other modest wishes came true for hard working teachers; elegant, simple, and effective philanthropy.
Last time I talked about ethical standards for grant writers and carefully obeying rules. This time I’m going to travel to my dark side and talk about rules that can be broken and how to break them.
My favorite rule to break is:
“Grants must be written in committee”
Principals need to form committees so they can assign tasks to people who are becoming pests. I have found in my experience that committees become unwieldy and stand in their own way. The key to writing in committee is having clear leadership. When someone tries to challenge the leader, it’s important to be sure that everyone has a task to match his or her talents. There are even good roles for complainers; these folks are good researchers. When they object to an issue, and they begin to complain, the leader reminds them of their “librarian” role and asks them to get the facts so everyone can make good decisions. After all, sometimes they’re right and you don’t want to push them away and antagonize, give them tools to prove their positions, and then be sure their research fits in to your overall narrative. This is how you publicly recognize their contributions.
In general though, I work best when I work alone.
I guess it’s because we’re one year away from a Presidential election. The candidates are polishing their resumes (such as they are) and Donald Trump is holding court with the American people. All of these things have inspired me to write about the politics of grant writing.
First, the obvious, when you’re looking at Federal and pass-through State grants, it matters who’s in the White House. In general, when Democrats are in the WH, there is more money for grant programs like Title I, Educator Quality, and Special Education allocations. When Republicans are in charge, wheels spin in a frantic effort to curtail or eliminate the federal government’s role in funding public education. Lately, the democratic environment has positioned the government to increase these grant programs, trying to level the playing field for the poorest and most fragile of our children to succeed.
Foundation and Corporate grants are a little different; they rely on the general economy to extend their philanthropic reach. Private grantors, as ruled by federal law, must devote a percentage of their profits to giving programs of many kinds, the most important through grant programs.
Every true professional works within certain ethical guidelines and this is certainly true for grant writers. Even if you work at it part time, and teach full time, you’ll be putting on a tighter ethical hat when you enter your grant world. You are dealing with and managing money. The temptations to abuse the trust you’ve been given are there, but not if you’ve set up your office and standards to be strictly ethical in the first place.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to buy things for your classroom through regular school district channels, is the layers of oversight that are built in to the purchasing process. It’s driven by state law and experience gained from lessons learned. Be grateful, it will release you to pay firm attention to the task at hand, raising money for your kids. Leave the purchasing process to the purchasing professionals.
There are certain application mistakes that new grant writers make.
I’ve listed five of them for you, take a look and see if they apply to you:
- Too ambitious, too much work proposed
- Unfocused aims, unclear goals
- Uncertain future directions (sustainability)
- Describing your project
- Demonstrating organizational capability
When a grant application crosses your desk, it’s tempting to see just the dollar signs. You are embarking on a project, one that may take several years to complete. You may not be successful the first time out. A few words of advice, don’t despair. The grantor needs to know you can be a reliable promoter of their goals and objectives. Wait, their goals, you say?
Title IIA, Educator Quality is a federal grant program designed to assist school districts in the huge task of developing and delivering quality professional development programs to their teachers. Title IIA is funding that is awarded from the US Government to the states, then allocated to the school districts within each state based on district demographics. The purpose of the grant has undergone subtle changes over the years; the current thrust is improving academic achievement by recruiting, training, and retaining highly qualified teachers.
Title IIA is a product of NCLB and The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The Act requires all teachers of core academic subjects to demonstrate teacher quality compliance. The federal definition of a Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT):
- teachers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree,
- be appropriately licensed by the state, and
- demonstrate subject matter competency.
The Perkins Grant is a federal grant program designed to assist vocational schools. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant is funding that is awarded from the US Government to the states, then allocated to vocational schools within each state based on student population numbers. A school’s vocational program must be eligible to apply. Schools must be certified by the state to run vocational programs.
This grant is available in the Spring, usually late March for submissions to be accepted by the state vocational education liaison for final approval. The award year runs from July 1 – June 30 of the following year.
Carl D. Perkins (1912-1984) was a lawyer and politician from Hindman, Kentucky. His support to education and the under-privileged is demonstrated by the federal student legislation named for him. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 provides federal money for career technical education. He was elected as a Democrat to the Eighty-first Congressional district and served from January 3, 1949, until his death in 1984.