Start planning now for new federal funding priorities to come

In many of my past columns, I have stressed the importance of advance planning as one of the keys to success in applying for grants. The January 2007 issue of eSchool News provided two articles that point to emerging trends that could have an impact on the federal grants landscape in the next three to five years.

The first article is the editorial by Gregg Downey, “Tough Love” (see In it, he discusses the report “Tough Choices or Tough Times,” from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Included in the report is a list of qualities the commission believes students will need to compete globally in the 21st century. These qualities include creativity and innovation, facility with the use of ideas and abstractions, the self-discipline and organizational skills needed to manage one’s work, and the ability to function well as a team member. Interestingly, the report calls for a realignment of the current funding in education around these priorities, rather than new sources of funding.

There are also references to 21st-century competitiveness in the front-page article, titled “Democrats lay out education agenda” (see news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6746). According to this article, “Federal funding for educational technology and other school programs could & see a boost” in the new Congress. As the story notes, the 109th Congress did not reach an agreement on the 2007 education budget before adjourning for the final time; now, the new Congress–led by a Democratic majority that is expected to be more sympathetic to education funding than the Republican-led Congress–will have to deal with this task.

The story also refers to the five-point plan that House Democrats unveiled in 2006, aimed at boosting the competitiveness of America’s workers. One of the initiatives in the plan was to provide incentives for students to pursue careers in science and technology. We’ve already seen parts of this plan come to fruition with a new program designed to assist undergraduate students who pursue careers in these two fields (see “$790 million in grants target ‘high-need’ subjects,”

If you already apply for federal funds, or expect to do so in the next few years, and you have not met with your legislator since the November elections, I would suggest that you make an appointment in the near future, especially if your representative is newly elected. As a grants administrator for your district, it is critical that you have a sense of where the new Congress might be headed in terms of future grant opportunities–including the introduction of new programs or, perhaps, as the New Commission report recommends, the realignment of current grant programs.

If one of the “hot-button” issues during the next few years is the competitiveness of U.S. students in the global economy, you can almost bet that future requests for federal education funding should include projects that have increased competitiveness as a primary goal. Reviewers of future federal grant proposals could very well be looking for objectives that measure the acquisition of skills and qualities mentioned in the “Tough Choices” report. Similarly, if funding for educational technology is going to get a boost, you’ll want to be sure that your district is keeping pace with new developments and potential impacts on student achievement using technology.

I would recommend that you share the results of your meeting with your congressional representative with your administration, your teaching staff, your school board members, and your parents. It might be time to call for a summit meeting to look at where your district is heading in the next five years and to discuss student and teacher needs in relation to where potential sources of federal funding might become available–and what particular topics will be of most interest to funders.

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