Click HERE to view CTE Funding: Grants Hold the Key to Maintaining Momentum in the Midst of a Pandemic as a multimedia presentation.
As instructors and administrators everywhere will tell you, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many different and ongoing challenges for educators in 2020. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon.
Like Wall Street investors, educators hate uncertainty. However, educators can’t let their classrooms, their programs, and the futures of their students fluctuate like the stock market. Instead, they must weather the storm and advance their causes no matter what comes their way.
With demand for highly-skilled workers increasing, today’s educators nonetheless face the prospect of trying to prepare the next generation of workers with less state and federal funding. How can you keep your career and technical education (CTE) programs going and growing? The key may be to find, apply for, and win available grants from a variety of sources.
Our friends at Lab Midwest recently hosted a webinar with two education professionals willing to share some of their experiences and best practices. In this article, we’ll highlight a few of their insights and offer some additional suggestions for educators looking to enhance and advance their CTE programs even in the midst of the uncertainty created by a pandemic.
The 2019-20 school year did not end like most educators expected. The COVID-19 pandemic struck, shutting down schools and businesses alike for months. As the 2020-21 school year gets underway, educators are now trying to reestablish some sense of normalcy.
But they’re struggling with the “new normal” they’ve been handed, as well as uncertainty about what lies ahead. As Lab Midwest’s Matthew Kirchner noted during his recent webinar, “[e]ducators hate uncertainty. We like to plan for our future. We like to know what’s coming at us.”
Unfortunately, predicting the future and planning accordingly are extremely difficult tasks right now. Why? “Because,” as Michael Griffith and William Berry wrote in their recent article for the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), “no one working in government today has ever dealt with the financial impact of a pandemic.”
The financial impact of the ongoing pandemic has been devastating to schools. According to the LPI article:
“LPI has estimated the pandemic’s financial costs to public school at between $199 billion and $246 billion (depending on how educational services are provided). These estimates include both the increased costs of dealing with COVID-19 and the loss of state revenue. This size of a financial impact on schools is unheard of and requires assistance from the federal government to prevent major cuts to our public education system.”
The federal government did act in the early stages of the pandemic, passing the CARES Act to provide billions of dollars of aid for education. Most of that funding has been exhausted, though, as states have already distributed funds to schools to make up for budgetary shortfalls resulting from months spent on lockdown.
Indeed, CARES Act funding wasn’t even sufficient for most states. The LPI article notes:
“States still had to tap reserves or take other steps to balance their budgets. For example, during this recession, as in past recessions, states have enacted one-time budgetary moves to avoid cutting education budgets. These maneuvers included tapping reserve accounts, delaying spending on specific activities, or even delaying payments to districts. While states had record amounts in their reserve accounts before the downturn, those funds are now significantly depleted. Many states used these funds to stabilize their fiscal year 2019–20 budgets and help avoid or minimize cuts to their 2020–21 budgets. However, these funds alone will not be enough to weather the current economic storm that could bring with it more severe education cuts in 2021 and beyond.”
More needs to be done, and it needs to be done soon. Valerie Strauss, in an article for The Washington Post, notes:
“School superintendents have been warning for months that they need more help from the federal government for the 2020-21 school year to adapt to the new learning environments that are necessary to keep students engaged during the pandemic. Congress has passed several stimulus packages, which have helped districts significantly for the first semester of the academic year, but has been unable to yet agree on a new deal that school districts say must include substantial help for them.”
That’s why “[a] coalition of education groups is urging Congress to provide at least $200 billion to help schools weather the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when state revenue is lagging and school districts are facing unprecedented needs,” writes Strauss.
For CTE instructors, these needs and struggles are especially troubling, because the nation’s manufacturers are looking to schools more than ever to help fill their need for highly-skilled workers.
According to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) report, the manufacturing sector had 456,000 job openings as of the end of September 2020, which represented 15,000 more job openings than the same time last year.
With nearly a half-million job openings in the manufacturing sector — even in the midst of a pandemic — it’s easy to see why educators must remain focused on keeping their CTE programs going and growing. Securing grant funding in the coming years may be the key to doing just that.
Lab Midwest’s Matthew Kirchner agrees that winning a grant can be the key to changing your CTE program forever, especially today when budget dollars are being allocated in new places and funding is uncertain. According to Kirchner:
“Our ability to effectively choose the grants that will apply to our programs, and to apply for those grants, and to win those grants, will be the difference maker in the CTE programs that advance during this time of uncertainty and those that stand still or, worse yet, go in the wrong direction.”
So what’s the secret to writing a winning grant application? The first step is to identify potential sources of grant funding. Ask your peers about their experiences. Use your social media contacts and networks to learn about available grants.
You can also reach out to expert consultants, such as Lab Midwest. If you don’t already know the experts in your area, get to know them soon. For example, Amatrol has a nationwide network of expert consultants you can contact to learn more about the funding landscape in your state.
During his webinar, Matthew Kirchner also provided a list of potential grant funding sources. Here are just a few sources you can begin to research:
- State Departments of Administration (DOA) grants
- U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) grants
- U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) grants
- Federal Perkins grants
- National Science Foundation grants
- Private family foundation grants
- Corporate foundation grants
- Trade association grants
After identifying grant funding that would apply to your program, you’ll want to make sure you put together an effective grant application. Two Wisconsin educators who have found great success with grants for their CTE programs joined Kirchner on his webinar:
- Kelli Kwiatkowski, Director of Secondary Teaching and Learning at the School District of New Berlin; and
- Jacob Gitter, Manufacturing Instructor at West Bend East High School.
Both Kwiatkowski and Gitter have primarily used grant funding to obtain new training equipment that is safer and more modern, so they can teach the relevant skills employers need today. However, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many instructors and school systems are also using grant funds to purchase access to eLearning content that will provide the flexibility necessary to teach students remotely.
Kwiatkowski shared several best practices that have served her well when applying for grant funding:
- It’s important to ensure that grant funding aligns with your strategic plans and goals, so search for grants that cater to your current programs and those planned for the future.
- Many grants require you to match funds at a certain level, so it’s critical to know in advance how much money your school will realistically be able to spend in matching funding. Don’t bother pursuing grants that require matching funds in excess of your school’s budget.
- Be sure to include important stakeholders early in the process. For example, the CTE instructors who will be using equipment and eLearning content should be involved from the start to help shape the definition of program needs. Including students and local employers can also provide important perspective regarding the future aspirations of students, as well as the ever-changing needs of the local labor market.
Gitter echoed the importance of building relationships with local employers. He believes that honest communication with industrial partners is the foundation of trust. When instructors listen to business partners and begin to build a strong pipeline of highly-skilled workers, employers can return the favor by supporting students through facility tours, job shadowing opportunities, and even apprenticeships.
Gitter also shared a few tips on common mistakes to avoid in the application process when seeking grant funding:
- Be concise. Don’t overstate your case, and don’t add in a bunch of fluff just to make your application appear more substantial. Reviewers of grant applications appreciate a straightforward presentation of your programs and their needs.
- Be realistic. Is your stated goal something you can actually achieve? If you don’t have the necessary matching funds, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Likewise, if you don’t have the buy-in of the instructors who will be using the resources, they’ll likely sit there unused even if you win your grant.
- Be thorough. Many people forget all the extra little things it will take to get your program up and running if you win your grant. Things like installation, wiring, and training take time and money and must be accounted for in the process.
- Be diligent. Your work isn’t over when you win the grant. Appoint one person or a small team to oversee ongoing requirements, such as data collection and reporting. Understand your obligations, know relevant deadlines, and make solid plans to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
If you win grant funding and successfully launch a new CTE program with eLearning and modern training equipment, how do you plan for long-term sustainability? Kwiatkowski and Gitter also offered some suggestions for planning for the future.
Although it’s been said already, it bears repeating: build relationships with postsecondary schools and industry partners. Vanilla Ice had it right when he rapped, “stop, collaborate, and listen.”
Include these valued partners in the process of curriculum development, so that you can be confident that what you’re teaching aligns with their needs. Listen to their advice. These partnerships will help you understand the forecasted labor market and local employers’ future pipeline needs.
You can also maximize future grant funding by embedding industry-standard certifications within your career pathways. Employers love it when students come to them with certifications that verify they possess the knowledge and hands-on skills to make an immediate impact in the workplace.
Examples of popular certifications include the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council’s (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) and Certified Technician in Supply Chain Automation (CT-SCA) programs, as well as the credentials offered by the Smart Automation Certification Alliance (SACA).
Ask for Help
As you embark on the journey to secure grant funding to keep your CTE programs going and growing, do not be afraid to ask for help. There are many resources available to help you. For example, you can check out the following articles from Amatrol for more information:
- The CARES Act: How to Access Federal Coronavirus Stimulus Money for Education
- How to Find Grant Funding for Technical Training
- Five Tips for Successful Technical Training Grant Proposals
You can also reach out to expert consultants in your area. These consultants always have their ears to the ground, listening for news regarding available funding at the local, state, and federal level. Let them help guide you to potential sources of funding for your program.
If you want to watch Lab Midwest’s webinar in its entirety, just click the link below:
About Duane Bolin
Duane Bolin is a former curriculum developer and education specialist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Duane on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.