The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has provided unprecedented levels of federal funding for education, and it has prompted most grant writers across the country (from all disciplines, not just education) to prepare themselves for a deluge of funding announcements–many of which will require quick turnaround times for proposals.

Here are some tips to help you navigate through this period of stress and uncertainty:
1. If you haven’t done so already, bookmark and visit the recovery web sites for the federal government (www.recovery.gov), for the U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov/recovery), and for your state on a regular basis. Sign up for eMail alerts to get the latest news.

2. If you’ve never applied for a federal grant before, and you plan to apply for some of the federal stimulus money, sign up for Grants.gov now. All of the federal stimulus grants are being announced on Grants.gov, and proposals must be submitted through the site. (For the bad news, see item No. 3.)

3. You should also know that the Grants.gov system is having problems already, and there are still many more announcements coming for stimulus funds. The system is running incredibly slowly, timing out and sending error messages for submitted proposals when, in fact, there are no errors. Apparently, there are discussions going on at the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the Grants.gov system) regarding possible alternatives for submissions, such as allowing grantees to send in their proposals via eMail or going back to mailing them via the U.S. Postal Service (remember those days?). Make sure you look for submission information in requests for proposals (RFPs), and try to have a "Plan B" in place if you cannot get your proposal submitted through the Grants.gov system. As you can probably guess, the system will be especially busy the day before and the day of any grant deadline, so you might want to prepare and submit your application several days before the deadline, if possible–which will give you time for your Plan B, if necessary.

4. Gather as much information as you can about the stimulus grants, and decide which ones you will probably apply for. Have your staff start collecting information, and hold meetings to discuss the details of your project(s), the costs of any equipment that you might want to include in your request, and project timelines. You don’t need to wait for the grant announcement to start doing some preliminary work.

5. Remember that the stimulus funds are one-time money, and for the most part, funds will need to be spent by 2010 or 2011. Also, the funds are supposed to create jobs or retain current jobs, so make sure you have this information ready to include in your proposal. Some education stimulus funds are meant to improve student achievement. Consequently, make sure you have your school’s or district’s current achievement data ready, and be prepared to show how implementing your proposed project will affect your students’ achievement scores.

6. The stipulations for committing stimulus funds and reporting back to Congress are going to require much shorter-than-usual review periods for grant proposals. However, this does not mean that sloppy proposals will get funded. Approach these grants as you would any other, paying close to attention to the RFP requirements. Unlike most other grant programs, you will not get a chance to reapply if you are not funded.

The next few weeks and months certainly promise to be exciting ones for those of us who write grants. Good luck as you pursue federal stimulus funding!