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An Evolving Education Landscape: A Look at New Trends in Grant Funding

Jun 15

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, June 15, 2011  RssIcon

By Christopher Haight
June 2011

The education funding landscape continues to evolve, especially at the Federal level where the final 2011 budget deal resulted in the elimination of many highly-anticipated grant programs. Popular programs such as Smaller Learning Communities, Enhancing Education Through Technology, Improving Literacy Through School Libraries, and Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools will not be offered this year. Other programs, such as the Teaching American History Grant, will only be available for continuation awards (meaning no new grant applications will be funded).

In all likelihood, this one-time elimination of funding does not bode well for any of these programs' revivals. As political leaders and policymakers in Washington look ahead to the next budget battle, which will include the need to raise America's debt ceiling, there will be little appetite for continuing these relatively small education programs.

Still, there was some hope within the budget deal that could signal new priorities in education funding. As reported previously in FUNDED, Race to the Top, the major education reform grant initiative launched under the Recovery Act, received an additional $700 million for 2011. Although far less than the $1.2 billion sought by the Obama administration, the continued support signaled Race to the Top grant dollars will be an important source - or at least influence - for education funding.

One of the key facets of this year's Race to the Top appropriation was the direction by Congress to include a specific priority for Early Learning reform projects. With the administration's proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund left unfunded, the administration announced in May that $500 million of the total 2011 Race to the Top funds would go to a specific grant program targeted towards early learning education. State Education Agencies will be the only eligible applicants, much like the original Race to the Top program.

Based on the initial announcement, the goals of the new program will be to:
"increase access to quality early learning programs for low income and disadvantaged children, design integrated and transparent systems that align their early care and education programs, bolster training and support for the early learning workforce, create robust evaluation systems to document and share effective practices and successful programs, and help parents make informed decisions about care for their children."

Efforts to support enhanced professional development for educators are also a growing priority for funding at the Federal level. Under the original Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grant programs, the U.S. Department of Education specifically cited activities related to "Great Teachers and Leaders" as an absolute priority. This topic included career pathways (such as alternative certification methods or experiences such as Teach for America), professional development activities and tools, and accountability and effectiveness measures.

These sorts of activities are expected to be a central component again under a 2011 Investing in Innovation program, funded at $150 million. In addition, the administration has proposed through its Blueprint for Education Reform and annual budget proposals to create a more comprehensive professional development competitive grant program. This program would combine many of the previously eliminated programs (such as Enhancing Education Through Technology) into one more generally-focused grant competition.

Finally, a more holistic approach to education reform initiatives may play a more prominent role in the future. The Promise Neighborhoods program, which focuses on efforts to address socioeconomic influences on student academic achievement, proved one of the very few "winners" of the 2011 budget. The program, first introduced in 2010, saw its total amount of funding triple from $10 million to $30 million. Promise Neighborhoods is based on the experience of the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, which incorporates social services such as parenting classes in addition to supportive educational offerings such as tutoring and mentoring.

All of these trends will demand applicants develop more comprehensive proposals and greater scopes of their projects. School districts seeking more targeted uses of funding, such as upgrades solely for technology or equipment, will have to broaden their creativity and capacity in order to stand a competitive chance for funding. While these costs can certainly be incorporated in many of these grant programs, they must be for much larger purpose. For more information on how last year's top-scoring application to Investing in Innovation approaches its project-development and grantseeking, see our April issue: http://grantsoffice.com/portals/0/funded/issues/FUNDEDApr2011.pdf

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