By Patrick Riedy, Grants Development Consultant - K-12 Education
The past few years have presented several challenges for K-12 school districts across the country. Many districts reported lower test scores, mental health challenges, attendance issues, and technological shortcomings because of the disruption to learning caused by COVID-19. These challenges present complex issues that demand careful attention, but many teachers appropriately feel the school day is just too short, and school leaders find it difficult to parse out one issue from another and address them accordingly.
One option that could assist school officials in all facets of their reparative journey is a grant program that has been around for decades, the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center Program, more commonly referred to as 21st CCLC. The 21st CCLC program is a federally funded grant program that is passed through states to support the creation or expansion of community learning centers for high-need schools that provide academic and cultural enrichment opportunities for students and their families outside of the traditional school day. This can include activities such as homework help, tutoring, STEM education, arts and music programs, and other enrichment activities.
The 21st CCLC program is administered in each state by your state department of education (SEA) and provides funding to eligible organizations, such as local education agencies (LEAs), nonprofit organizations, and other public or private organizations. Funding varies depending on the state’s allocation, but minimum awards are typically in the tens of thousands. The actual grant amount awarded to a school or organization depends on numerous factors, including the size of the program, the number of students served, and the specific activities included in the program. Deadlines vary by state, so it is best to check your SEA website for when the next opportunity for new sites will open.
To begin planning for your application, consider the following steps:
- Understand the 21st CCLC Program: Familiarize yourself with the goals, requirements, and priorities of the 21st CCLC program. Review the program's guidance and regulations provided by the U.S. Department of Education and SEA. Your SEA may also be able to provide technical assistance, including guidance on program design, budget development, and performance measurement.
- Identify School and Community Needs: Identify the needs of the students and families in your community, as well as any challenges or barriers to learning. This can be done through school walkthroughs to see where facilities need additional resources, repair, or replacement, as well as community resource mapping to identify gaps in services. This will help you to develop a program that addresses these needs and priorities.
- Develop a Comprehensive Plan: Develop a comprehensive plan for your 21st CCLC program that aligns with the program's goals and priorities. This plan should include the activities and services you will provide, the intended outcomes, the target population, and how you will measure progress and success.
- Gather and Use Data: Collect data to support your grant application, such as the percentage of students from lower-income households, academic performance data, attendance rates, and behavioral data. You may also gather feedback from students, families, and community partners by employing a needs assessment survey and/or the creation of a focus group that includes students, teachers, and parents.
- Create a Detailed Budget: Reach out to vendors and develop a detailed budget for your program, including costs for staffing, materials, equipment, and transportation. Make sure your budget aligns with your program plan and goals.
- Consider Partnering with Community Organizations: Consider partnering with community organizations to provide additional resources and support for your program. These partnerships can also help to demonstrate community support for your program.
- Review and Submit: Review deadlines for your state. Once you write your application, leave time to review it thoroughly and make sure it meets all the requirements and priorities of the 21st CCLC program. Submit your application before the deadline.
At a time when schools are increasingly asked to do more for students and their families, the 21st CCLC presents a unique opportunity. The breadth of this grant provides the flexibility needed for local education agencies to tailor programming to meet the specific needs of their community. A thoughtful, well-planned project that addresses these needs and aligns with the goals and priorities of the program could be the jumpstart your district needs to improve the school climate, re-ignite the excitement to learn, and ensure students have a safe, secure place to engage outside of traditional classroom time.