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Opinion: Simplifying Grant Applications for School Tech Upgrades

Now is an opportune time for schools to take advantage of federal, state and local grant opportunities for tech and safety upgrades, and it behooves applicants to know the process and have the right partner.

a stack of paper files
While the safety and security of students has always been top of mind for educators, recent trends in violence make it more important than ever to ensure students are safe and school facilities are secure.

Luckily, education grants at the federal and state levels, such as those currently available in Ohio and Texas, were introduced to increase school safety by providing funds for technology and infrastructure upgrades.

Unfortunately, the variety of funding sources between these agencies can complicate the grant process, regardless of the funding one is applying for. By knowing what technology is available and how it can be supported by grant funding, applicants can ensure their schools maximize security upgrades, benefitting both teachers and students.

All funding sources can and should be applied for the betterment of students, but there are some key differences between state and federal grant opportunities. First, eligibility requirements for state grants vary by state, while federal grants are uniform throughout the country. Second, federal grants typically provide more funds, but with a catch, as they are more competitive and usually require more stringent reporting.

While it’s best to spend most of your time monitoring and preparing for grant opportunities at local and state agencies, federal agencies also release grants, albeit irregularly. The best agencies to monitor for these opportunities are the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. These departments have specific policies regarding what to include in grant applications, and some have more specific requirements than others.

Not only are federal grants divided between several different agencies, but different types of grants as well. The most frequent types of grants in education are:

  • Categorical grants, which may only be used for a narrowly defined purpose, such as for special education programs.
  • Project grants, which are funds distributed for a specific project or area of research. An example of this type of grant is the Federal Pell Grant system.
  • Formula grants, which are created through legislation specifying a precise purpose and formula for dispersing funds, such as through the No Child Left Behind Act.

Despite the differences between funding agencies at the federal level, there is one constant between all federal grant opportunities: paperwork and time. The most important thing I’ve learned while helping schools across the country apply for these grants is that they should start gathering materials a month in advance. Remember that if your school receives funding, it will need more paperwork to prove it’s using the funds appropriately and as intended in its application.

While federal agencies are an added resource, state and local agencies are the best option for school security and technology grants due to the lower competition and requirements. As such, most of an applicant’s time and research should focus on these sources. Each state has different requirements and grant options, but there are several strategies for improving grant applications regardless.

  • Be specific with budgeting and demonstrate a vital need. While demonstrating a strong need for the grant will improve an applicant’s chances, a realistic and specific budget detailing how they will use the funds to reach a particular goal will significantly strengthen the application and opportunities for receiving funding.
  • Consider collaboration. Not only will this add resources to the grant team’s capacity, but it tends to be more attractive to funders because it shows a united front in addressing a community issue.
  • Don’t forget to follow up. It’s essential to ensure the application was received correctly, but this tip has added value. In a follow-up, ask for feedback on the proposal. While it might be too late to edit the proposal, the feedback could be useful for future submissions.

If you’ve applied for grants before, you know that’s just the start of the process. Once an application is accepted and the funding received, that is the time to start the implementation process, which can be a heavy lift on its own. After helping schools across the country in their implementation phase, I’ve learned numerous strategies to help maximize the funding they receive, the most important of which is to work with a well-informed technology partner. This partnership will position an applicant for success on many levels.

  • Maximizing dollars is of the utmost importance. A proper technology partner can help schools avoid wasting money on items they don’t need and ensure their technology will give them the most bang for their buck. Additionally, some technology partners offer parts of their software suite through grants of use, because they believe funding shouldn’t be a hurdle to safety.
  • A technology partner can also work with law enforcement to perform a vulnerability assessment and develop a plan to compensate for any blind spots in security that administrators may not even be aware of. Always have a vulnerability assessment before completing a grant application.
  • There is often some front-loading work to be done with security technology implementation. At first glance, this can appear overwhelming to a school IT department. A qualified technology partner will help explain the implementation and walk them through any obstacles. While there may be some extra work for a week or two, the life-saving rewards will pay off in dividends.
The abundance of grant funding available at state and federal levels makes this a tremendous time for schools to evaluate their current safety and security practices. Despite the complex nature of the various stages of the grant process, many tools and strategies are available to increase the odds of receiving funding and maximizing it during implementation.

Danielle Myers is general manager and lead evangelist at Status Solutions. She has experience in several markets, including education, senior living, health care, manufacturing, hospitality and government. Danielle is a graduate of The Ohio State University and an expert on middleware integration technologies for situational and environmental awareness.