Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Should Principals and Teachers Apply for Grants?

Last time I wrote about forming grant committees at a campus and district level. I want to talk a little more about grants at the campus level – campus and classroom grants. I believe more and more schools need to write these smaller grants in order to supplement declining budgets.

Grants don’t have to be huge to make a difference. Target has given out 5,000 field trip grants worth $5,000,000 each year for the last couple of years. Each grant is only $500.00, but field trips are also one of the first items that schools routinely cut from their budgets. It is not unusual for local Wal-Mart managers to hand out $500 - $1,000 grants locally for special school or community foundation projects. Neither grant is a large amount of money, but $500 - $1,000 at the right time can make a huge difference for a campus or classroom project.

It is unfortunate that some districts won’t allow principals and teachers to apply for grants. Some grants require the district to continue funding a program once the grant money runs out. When principals and teachers apply for these types of grants without informing the district of the continued obligation, it can really get sticky. Normally, the local school board must approve the money to continue a grant program. Because of the problems such a scenario can cause, some districts simply refuse to allow teachers and principals to apply for grants.

I believe a much better way to handle this situation is for central administration to have a review process wherein principals and teachers can apply for grants, but they must have the prior approval of the superintendent, assistant superintendent, or the district’s grant coordinator depending on the size of the district. Once a district administrator has signed off on a grant, that removes the element of surprise once grant money starts arriving, or it’s time for the district to continue funding a program when grant funds are depleted.

I would never say that all of the shortfalls in today’s budgets can be made up by writing campus or classroom grants, but I do think they can help. They can also get teachers and campus administrators more involved in the funding process. It’s a great feeling to help your campus find and win money that helps to improve instruction.

When I was the principal of a small middle school (500 students) in Northeast Texas, we were able to bring in more than $300,000 in a 3-year period in grant and partnership money. My teachers never spent their own money for supplies. We always had money to improve programs or to try new ones. None of that $300,000 came from our regular budget. It was money over and above the money the district gave us.

The principals and teachers at your campus may not be able to bring in that much money. On the other hand, you might be able to bring in much more than that. I can tell you this. If you never write a grant, form a partnership with a local business, or do any kind of fundraising, you won’t bring in any extra money to supplement your budget. You have to take action.

You might say that grant writing is not your job. Maybe it’s not. As a principal, I always thought our campus should do anything we possibly could to give our students a better education. I hope you believe that, too. Winning campus and classroom grants can supply you with more money, and it can also give you a great sense of accomplishment.

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