Survival of the Fittest: Finding Grants amid Deficit Reduction
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
By Christopher Haight
At the heart of the debates in Washington and in state capitals across the country is the ongoing crisis in public finance as politicians, unions, lobbyists, policy wonks, and others debate just what it will take to align revenues to outlays. With the 111th Congress having left Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 appropriations unfinished, it remains up to the 112th Congress not only to finish the FY2011 spending bills but also begin work on the budget for FY2012.
This charge is proving even more insurmountable than anticipated as freshmen House Republicans won an intraparty battle with House leadership to force the equivalent of $100 billion in cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year. With Democrats at the helm in the U.S. Senate pushing for far fewer cuts in the current budget, however, it has pushed negotiations to the brink of a possible government shutdown - bringing to memory the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns of the Clinton years.
As this issue of FUNDED went to press, the government continued to operate on a Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 18. This CR, which extended the previous CR from March 4 eliminated funding for annual education grant programs such as Smaller Learning Communities and Arts in Education. With Republicans, Democrats and the administration agreeing to eliminate such programs completely, it is unlikely we will see their return anytime soon.
Furthermore, additional cuts to popular programs seem likely in any final spending plans. The Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, a popular pass-through grant program that awards districts with money to supply classroom technology and professional development for teachers, is also ripe for elimination. Since its inception nearly a decade ago, EETT has seen its annual funding level slashed by approximately $600 million (excluding 2009's one-time infusion of funds from the Recovery Act) to $100 million. The administration has repeatedly indicated its preference that the program be eliminated and funds be consolidated into other grant programs - and may be getting at least the first part of its wish.
Despite this seeming onslaught of inauspicious news for grantseekers, alternative sources of funding remain available. For example, the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant is still accepting applications, due April 25, 2011 (for more extensive coverage, see article on page 4). This program is targeted at rural school districts and, much like EETT, is heavily focused on technology and equipment acquisition such as hardware and software for educational purposes. Likewise, the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program, due March 28, 2011, supports technology upgrades and acquisitions in school libraries. This program is targeted towards districts that serve student populations with greater than a 20% poverty rate.
Grantseekers who had initially anticipated pursuing the Smaller Learning Communities program can also find alternative options through existing programs. For example, the Federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers continues to receive backing at around $1 billion per year. This program supports expanded learning time opportunities, such as after-school or summer programming, and gives schools the flexibility to design new projects aimed at a variety of purposes, including remedial education, science/math education, literacy, and recreational programs.
Private funders, like foundations, are also stepping in to fill the void left by the Federal government. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with EDUCAUSE has been implementing their new joint initiative, Next Generation Learning Challenges. The Next Generation Learning Challenges program supports schools in implementing technology-based learning projects by addressing specific education levels through multiple grant application solicitations during the year.
Deficit reduction will continue to be a top concern over the next few years for policymakers and grantseekers alike. Organizations should respond to this new fiscal reality by retooling their grantseeking strategies to seek alternative programs that command more popular support or seek new, nongovernmental sources. Grantseeking remains an evolutionary process where succeeding and surviving often means proving yourself adaptable to ever-changing circumstances.