Streamlining K–12 Safety and Security Grant Writing
Never at any point in history have parents, teachers, and staff had to worry so much about a child’s safety at school. Vandalism, bullying, fighting, and other volatile confrontations have long been troublesome concerns that many K–12 schools and local education agencies (LEA) have had to contend with. However, the rise in active shooter tragedies over the past few decades has become the most prominent focal point in everyone’s minds. Though active shooter events at K–12 schools are considered rare, statistics don’t do much to assuage fears.
Preventative action involving security improvements is what parents, teachers, staff, and the public expect to see. As a result, there’s now an increased emphasis on safety and security technology such as surveillance cameras, perimeter protection, controlled access, and more robust door-opening solutions. Higher levels of awareness and increased training around procedures and proper use of protective measures have also become a top priority.
In addition, there is greater recognition of the need to invest more in teachers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists who are qualified to help children de-escalate from making tragic decisions—and, of course, to help students overcome fears and traumas stemming from extreme events.
At stake are the physical safety and mental health of those attending and working in our schools. Creating a secure and comfortable learning atmosphere is essential for academic success and provides peace of mind for students, teachers, staff, administrators, and parents alike.
Fortunately, serious action is being taken today to make K–12 schools safer, more secure, and healthier. Funding has increased dramatically across the country through annual federal grants, general funding from legislatures, and special bonds and levies at the local level.
Sources of K–12 Funding
Since 2020, the federal government has made $190 billion available through three tranches of its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (K–12 ESSER) as part of the CARES Act. ESSER III, released in March 2021, provided $123 billion to specifically address social-emotional, physical, and structural improvement programs. In addition, many state legislatures have allocated a significant increase in funding to ensure schools are better protected and prepared, especially in regions impacted most by tragedies.
Texas, for example, passed Senate Bill 500, appropriating $100 million to the Texas Education Agency for funding a range of improvements at public schools. Listed solutions include exterior doors with push bars, metal detectors at entrances, vehicle barriers and perimeter fencing, security systems to monitor openings and hallways, active shooter alarms, door-locking systems, and more. As with most grants, a school can apply to receive funding for some or all the solutions, depending on its vulnerabilities, current condition, location, and size.
The Needs Assessment Challenge
To apply, submissions must be properly written and include comprehensive narratives derived from solid needs assessments and recommendations. Often, these assessments are done by a team of school or LEA (district) stakeholders, which typically includes a mix of facilities personnel, teachers, and other staff members, and possibly outside consultants. It’s an intensive commitment and process.
Schools and districts that have relationships with security solutions manufacturers and integrators have the advantage of tapping into those companies’ consultative and other professional services to help identify issues, recommend solutions, and streamline the process. Establishing these connections also promotes continuing education about product options, innovations, and the most cost-effective solutions.
As a door security solutions manufacturer, our company doesn’t directly sell products to school districts, but we do consult with them on what’s possible and what agencies like the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (passk12.org), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI recommend. We also maintain a direct relationship with school districts, universities, and government entities to keep them well-informed and to help them find service providers/integrators they might want to work with.
Navigating the Grant Writing Process
Grant writing is the next pressure point. According to Linda Alaniz, President and Grant Consultant at Educational Research Institute (ERI), “In some cases, there can be 50 to 100 pages of grant guidelines to study. The timeframes to complete submissions are also limited—usually only 30 to 45 days from the time a grant comes out.”
This can be quite challenging, especially for smaller and mid-sized campuses, which typically don’t have a grant writer on staff. In fact, a district’s student population may need to reach up to 10,000 before such a position is practical. As a result, only about 15% of the school districts in the U.S. have a full-time professional grant writer.
Alaniz notes that this means most smaller and many mid-sized schools end up applying on their own, relying on a team of staff members to write the grants. “While their heart and passion may be apparent in the application narrative,” she said, “there’s a risk of incomplete answers and missed guidelines that can result in a lower score and/or disqualification.”
“Teams like these may have had good success writing grants for academic programs they’re more familiar with,” said Alaniz. “However, safety and security grants are a much more complex and technical specialty altogether. State-school, board-funded support mechanisms like educational service centers or educational service associations may be helpful. But again, they’re more likely to have been historically involved in the academic or legal side of K–12 grant writing.”
That’s why many schools and districts are now looking to independent resources for assistance. They may hire an individual professional, a university grant writer, or a company that has a team specializing in school safety and security grant writing.
These outside resources can be extremely helpful in ushering the grant application process to success. Some charge an upfront flat fee, and others like ERI offer a unique contingency option where they only get compensated if a grant reaches fruition.
The best advice for achieving a positive safety and security grant outcome? Enlist the help and services of the experts, whether they’re a manufacturer, integrator, independent consultant, or experienced grant writer. You’ll save time, reduce stress, and get to the goal line sooner so you can forge ahead with providing a richer, safer K-–12 learning experience.
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2023 issue of Campus Security Today.