Guest Column

Sometimes You Just Need a Bigger Budget

by Gary Lee Frye
The No Child Left Behind Act is applying growing pressure on school districts to produce ever-increasing student achievement scores at the same time that many states have been experiencing budget shortfalls and smaller allocations to local schools.

The shortage of financial resources is forcing schools to decide what educational programs to eliminate rather than what new programs to support. This puts school districts in the position that "something's gotta give" because doing more with less has been stretched past its limits.

This is a classic “Catch 22” where two realities do not match. The only solution is finding another source of funding for public schools. The most obvious source is grants because only outside grants can raise enough funds to support the curricula to meet NCLB goals effectively.

Fulfilling Needs

The major obstacle with tapping into these funds is developing and writing the grant proposal. Current staffing in most school districts does not allow free time for staff to write grants. If a school wants a grant, staff members must complete the proposals at night and on weekends.

One reason some staff members are willing to relinquish their free time is their conviction that their students need the program that a grant would provide. If the grant is funded, their first thought is establishing a program to benefit their students. They may not consider writing a second grant proposal unless their students have continuing educational needs that are not being met by the first grant. Most school districts have not created a process for tapping into grants as a funding source on a continuing basis.

The Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District, because of the vision our superintendent had for the district, had such a desire almost 10 years ago. At the time, I was a newly hired math, health and physical education teacher who had my first grant proposal funded (for migrant/special education students at another district). When I saw a need for pre-algebra in my new assignment at a junior high, I wrote another grant proposal, which was successful.

The superintendent took notice. He created a grant writer/dyslexia coordinator position and asked me to fill it to help the district obtain more funding to pursue his vision for a better education for the district’s students. In the past six years, the district has received more than $8 million in grant support of programs to meet the needs of our students, parents and teachers.

Proper Goals

The first step in creating a school district development program is having a clear vision of what you would like your school system to become. Without this vision as a road map to direct the grant proposal development, the goal becomes the flow of money rather than the support of new or existing programs that will have a positive effect on students.

The second step is finding a staff member who enjoys such pursuits and has the temperament to work with outside funders to create attractive grant proposals. In Grant Writing for Dummies, author Bev Browning makes the point that most grant writers did not start out writing grants intending to make it their career. They backed into the position because they saw a need in their organization that could not be filled using normal methods and found an outside source to fund the need. That’s how I started.

The third step is to budget hard money for the position. If a school district is serious about attracting grants as an ongoing source, the district leadership must commit to giving the person in the position enough time to become effective. In my doctoral dissertation about the creation of development offices in Texas public schools, I found a consensus among development coordinators that from 18 to 24 months is needed to determine success of a grant-writing program.

Staff Satisfaction

I have seen the effect of a development office on the staff’s thinking. The sense of deprival of needed resources that’s common in most schools is replaced by one of satisfaction. Teachers begin to think in terms of what is possible. The staff looks at each student or subgroup of students in terms of what programs might benefit them and how such programs, if proven effective, can be integrated into the ongoing school improvement process.

With the changes NCLB is bringing to public schools, we must look to some nontraditional funding streams because current budgets will not meet current needs. Grants become a method by which school can meet all students’ needs because they allow for targeted remediation and acceleration programs that would be impossible to support otherwise.

Gary Frye is director of development and special student programs in the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District, 16302 Loop 493, Lubbock, TX 79423. E-mail: glfrye@lcisd.net