I started writing grants in about 1995 during what I have come to think of as the Golden Age of education grant writing. Government grants were used as a positive way to spark and spread new ideas and solutions. I became, and remain, a huge proponent of grants as an effective vehicle to fund educational change.
A prime example of how education grants were used in the Golden Age was bilingual education. Bilingual grants spurred innovation as practitioners were given funding to experiment and seek the best ways to implement bilingual programs. The government looked to the field to discover the best way to ensure immigrant children succeeded, and concomitantly, to teach a second language to both English and non-English speakers. Bilingual education got plowed under by the politics of language and immigration; in the end, success was irrelevant and all the funds were redistributed.
Slowly but surely over the past 16 years, the number of grants from the federal and state level for all educational programs dwindled as government leaders consolidated centralized control, in the form of standards which remain the organizing dictum for budgeting in education. In the absence of innovation, standards have gone largely unchallenged as the preeminent organizing philosophy (a topic for another post).
The Golden Age of grants passed into the Lead Age of entitlements in which money is redistributed at pennies per student to be consumed by the ravenous starving dogs that are general fund budgets (woof). In this new age, grants to fund innovation are superfluous and replaced by entitlements and a few grants to pay for implementation of “approved", "research-based” solutions.
I’m eager for an educational grant renaissance that will revive an entrepreneurial style of leadership; one that sparks innovation and change. The answers to educational issues can be discovered but it requires that we trust practitioners to plan and take risks based on their experience on the front line.
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