Looking Beyond the US Department of Education: Top Federal Grants for K-12 Schools
Looking Beyond the US Department of Education: Top Federal Grants for K-12 Schools

By Patrick Riedy, Grants Development Consultant (K-12 Education)


Grant-seeking can be an extremely competitive process for K-12 schools, especially if they limit themselves to grants available from their State’s Department of Education or the U.S. Department of Education. To increase the possibilities of success, now is the perfect time to explore various federal grant opportunities outside the Department of Education that could supplement their funding. In this article, I will highlight some federal agencies and grant programs schools can take advantage of from other departments and agencies according to the type of project schools are hoping to fund.


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Projects

The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides grants to support research and innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Partnering with research institutions and institutes of higher education can be a fruitful strategy for K-12 schools seeking National Science Foundation (NSF) grants. By collaborating with these organizations on grants such as Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST), schools can tap into their expertise, resources, and research capabilities to enhance their STEM education programs. Partnerships can involve joint curriculum development, teacher professional development, student mentoring, and access to cutting-edge facilities and technologies. Such collaborations not only strengthen grant proposals but also promote knowledge sharing, innovation, and a seamless educational pathway from K-12 to higher education. Through these partnerships, schools can leverage the strengths of research institutions to create transformative learning experiences for students and advance STEM education.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers grants that support initiatives related to school meals, nutrition education, and farm-to-school programs. K-12 schools can apply for funding to improve their meal programs, provide nutrition education to students and families, or establish partnerships with local farmers. In addition to these opportunities, USDA’s Rural Development Office manages the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program, which offers K-12 schools in rural areas an opportunity to leverage technology for educational and healthcare purposes. Through DLT grants, schools can access funding to implement real-time distance learning programs, expand virtual classrooms, and provide students with access to a broader range of educational opportunities, such as advanced STEM courses. Additionally, the program supports telemedicine initiatives, enabling schools to connect with healthcare professionals remotely and expand access to quality healthcare services for students and their families. By participating in the DLT program, K-12 schools can bridge the geographical divide, enhance educational outcomes, and improve healthcare access in rural communities.


Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy Projects

The Department of Energy (DOE) provides an opportunity such as Renew America’s School Program to support energy efficiency, renewable energy technology adoption, and improve public health. K-12 schools can apply for funding to implement energy-saving measures, such as repairs, renovations, or installations, conduct energy audits, or develop innovative partnerships focused on energy conservation and sustainable practices.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers grants to support environmental education and sustainability initiatives. In addition to grants that support educational and sustainability programming, K-12 schools can apply for grants such as the Clean School Bus Program, which aims to reduce children's exposure to harmful emissions and improve air quality by supporting projects that upgrade and replace older, more polluting school buses. Through this program, schools can receive grants to replace 15 to 50 diesel-fueled buses with low and zero-emission alternatives. By participating in the Clean School Bus Program, K-12 schools can contribute to a healthier and safer environment for students, drivers, and communities while promoting sustainable transportation practices.


School Safety and Security Projects

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers grants that support programs related to health, wellness, nutrition, and mental health. K-12 schools can seek funding for initiatives such as school-based health clinics, nutrition education, substance abuse prevention, and mental health services. For example, the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) manages a grant program titled Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education). Project AWARE is a grant program that supports K-12 schools implement comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to promote mental health awareness and well-being among students. This program provides funding to schools to develop and expand initiatives focused on mental health training, awareness campaigns, early intervention, and supportive services. By applying for Project AWARE grants, K-12 schools can enhance their capacity to address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students, creating a positive and inclusive learning environment. Through this program, schools can contribute to the overall well-being and success of their students, fostering resilience and promoting mental health for all.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) provides grants that focus on youth crime prevention, juvenile justice, and community safety. K-12 schools can seek funding for programs that promote school safety, prevent bullying and violence, or support restorative justice practices. An extremely popular program administered by the DOJ originates from their Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office, titled School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP). COPS SVPP provides grants to K-12 schools to create target-hardened buildings and prevent violence in educational settings. Through this program, schools can access funding to purchase and install technology upgrades that will improve school security and ensure the coordination of emergency management efforts between the school and local law enforcement agencies.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) State and Local Cybersecurity Program provides a valuable opportunity for K-12 schools to enhance their cybersecurity defenses and protect sensitive data. Through this program, States and territories were provided the opportunity to receive funds that they would pass along to eligible local government agencies, including schools, to access in the form of technical assistance, equipment, and training to strengthen their cybersecurity infrastructure, develop incident response plans, and educate staff and students about safe online practices. By participating in the NTIA State and Local Cybersecurity Program, schools can safeguard their digital environments, mitigate cyber threats, and ensure the privacy and security of student information. Seeing as this grant is a pass-through grant from NTIA to states, be sure to check on specific timelines and dates with your corresponding state agency.


Next Steps

            In anticipation of applying for federal grants, K-12 schools can take several proactive steps. Schools must take time and identify their specific needs and determine how grant funding can address those needs. It's also crucial to research available grants from different federal agencies to find the ones that align with the school's goals and priorities. To explore federal grant opportunities, visit grants.gov, the central repository for federal grants. Schools should also gather relevant data and evidence to support their grant proposals, such as student performance data, needs assessments, and program evaluation results. And, perhaps most importantly, schools should establish strong partnerships with community organizations, businesses, institutes of higher education, and other stakeholders to strengthen their applications and demonstrate collaborative efforts to achieve project goals.