School Improvement Grants: Did They or Didn’t They? (Improve Schools)

Flash back to 2008 (if you dare). The country (the world) was an economic nightmare, banks and brokerage firms were dissolving into thin air, and people were scared. We’ve crept back step by step, but during those dark days, if you were engaged in work in public education, and cared about struggling schools, you were very concerned about sources of survival funds. Cities and towns, dependent on tax revenues, were preparing to slash jobs and cut programs just to keep doors open.

Enter a democratic president whose number one goal and mission was to expand educational opportunity for everyone. Enter ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds to fill the gaps we would have faced. I remember the management tasks attached to those funds, see these gray hairs? Our district was audited, people with clipboards and attitudes were in evidence, but somehow, I didn’t mind. There was something comforting about knowing that the dollars were being scrutinized. Our district had followed the rules to the letter and the penny, so the clipboards went away and we carried on. Blessedly they didn’t return. It was a great lesson in “get it right the first time”.

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Current Grant Opportunities- April 2014

  1. Grades 6-12 Math and Science Grantsfrom the Toshiba America Foundation
  2. Educational Grantsfrom the Halliburton Foundation, Inc
  3. Foundation Grantsfrom the Wish You Well Foundation
  4. Equipment Grantsfrom the Good Sports
  5. Educational Grants from the Ambrose Monell Foundation
  6. Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachersfrom the National Science Foundation
  7. Bauder Fund Small Grants Programfrom the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT)
  8. Foundation Grantsfrom the Open Meadows Foundation
  9. Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award in Science Education for Students with Disabilities from Science Education for Students with Disabilities

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Keeping Records for Your Grant Awards

You’ve received the call (letter) that congratulates you for your successful application for a grant. You are elated, and you should be very proud of this accomplishment. Remember you were in competition for the award, other applications were vetoed. Grantors are very careful about awarding grants. They know the project they have chosen will reflect on them. Their political or social agenda will be furthered or hampered by the project you will launch.

The first thing you must do is handle the check properly. When it comes in, it will probably be sent to your attention unless other arrangements have been made (large awards may have bank transfer arrangements so you will never actually see the check). Your school district business manager will help you develop procedures for this step; the check must be deposited in an account that can be accessed as you work through your project.

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Government Grants, Which Ones are Worth the Effort?

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.

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Current Grant Opportunities- March 2014

  1. America’s Historical and Cultural Organizations: Planning Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities
  2. Grant for Educators from the Herb Society of America
  3. Kishor M. Kulkarni Distinguished High School Teacher Award from ASM International
  4. Educational Grants from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation
  5. Foundation Grants from the Standard Charitable Foundation
  6. Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Program from the US Department of Education
  7. EcoTech Grants from the Captain Planet Foundation
  8. Educational Grants from the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Inc.
  9. Foundation Grants from the D’Addario Music Foundation
  10. Teacher Grants from the Kids In Need Foundation

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Working with Corporations for Grant Writing Success

Last time, we talked about some of the fine points of approaching private foundations for grant support. The main idea was that you need to know what the foundation wants. They have a focus, a guiding principle, some reason (usually passionately presented) for providing grant funds to schools and non-profits.

Likewise, corporations can be approached as you seek support for school projects that have been identified as necessary to solve local problems.

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Know What the Foundation Wants

In my career as a grants administrator I have observed many grant writers as they navigate their way through the grant writing process. Sometimes it is somewhat painful to watch.

The writer will get a call from a teacher or community member who says, “Hey, I heard about this cool grant given by the XYZ Foundation. Our school really needs new football helmets for the kids, can you try to see if we can get one”.

So the grant writer calls the foundation and asks for the application package. These days they are almost always referred to a website where they will find the details of how the foundation provides funds for schools and non-profit organizations. The grant writer reads through the package briefly and then works furiously to come up with a flashy project that underscores the need for football helmets in the school. Concussion statistics are mined and horror stories told about injuries suffered by kids as they play sports.

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Current Grant Opportunities- February 2014

1.    Digital Wish Grants from Digital Wish
2.    Challenge Educational Grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
3.    D.E.W. Foundation Grants from the Dale and Edna Walsh Foundation
4.    Youth Grant from the USA Track and Field Foundation
5.    BWI Summer Reading Program Grant from the American Library Association
6.    Foundation Grants from the Saucony Run for Good Foundation
7.    Rubin Foundation Education Grants from the Samuel Rubin Foundation, Inc.
8.    Procter & Gamble Educational Grants from the Procter & Gamble Fund
9.    Foundation Grants from the Best Buy Children’s Foundation
10.  Ross Foundation Educational Grants from the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

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How Will You Assess The Success of Your Grant Funded Program?

You’ve been writing grant applications now for some time, and your success rate is picking up. You recently had a rejection letter from a foundation that reviewed your after school program and said they were unclear how you were going to measure the success of the project. They wanted to know how you will know your students are improving academically from your program (assuming that improvement of academic achievement was what you were promising)?

Every grant writer suffers rejection from time to time. It’s a natural part of the process and you’ll always learn something from the rejection. Grantors are becoming very sophisticated in their review process, there are so many competing applications and they must select only the very best. I don’t know this for sure, but I will guess that measuring success is the biggest sticking point for otherwise great applications. It’s not always clear how you’re going to measure your progress. For instance, if your grant application is to raise funds for a preschool playground, not only how will you measure your success (completion of the construction?) but what are you measuring? If you’ve promised that your playground will be a way for STEM subjects to be emphasized in your school, how will you be sure it does that? And why is this a good thing?

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The Grant Writer’s Web of Intrigue

In previous blogs, I familiarized you with the School Funding Center Grants Database – to provide you with a sense of the huge number of sources they identify for school and community grants. I sent you on some field trips through the web and even in your car, drive around your community to find the branch offices that are there for big companies. They are filled with helper-bees and people who want to give back to their communities. Tap their enthusiasm, it’s still a tough economy, but not a totally dry well by any means, and it’s getting better all the time.

I also gave you some tips on turning your grant writing experiences into a try-out for becoming a school administrator if that’s what you want to do. It’s a great place to start.

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