Success Story: Securing a Fund for Improvement of Education Grant to Address Personnel Shortages
Nancy Kuhles, SLP and Christine Verre-Tierney, SLP
Washoe County Public Schools, Nevada
What did you do?
Using a $500.00 seed grant from ASHA, we brought together 50 stakeholders to create the Coalition to Address Nevada's Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services. Four years later, it became evident that the Coalition's goals of recruitment and retention of special education and related service personnel would require an infusion of funds to support three identified critical needs in the state: increasing and expanding professional development programs in the 17 school districts, developing mentoring programs for existing personnel, and publicizing school-based careers and career opportunities in Nevada through the Get the Word Out campaign. We applied for a Fund for Improvement of Education (FIE) Grant to support the Coalition's recruitment and retention goals and secured a $24,000.00 grant. The FIE program supports grants that have been identified by Congress in appropriation legislation; grants are awarded to public or private entities and administered through the U.S. Department of Education.
What were your greatest challenges?
Our greatest challenges revolved around the process of gaining support and sponsorship of a grant through Nevada political representatives. Having no prior experience in requesting a federal grant, we relied on the expert guidance of Neil Snyder, ASHA's director of federal advocacy, regarding the most effective ways of contacting and working with our Nevada congressmen and senators. As a result of Neil's guidance, and focusing on our goal of finding funds to move forward in the Coalition's recruitment and retention efforts, we successfully earned the support of Senator Harry Reid.
A secondary challenge we faced involved compliance with U.S. Department of Education application requirements. Before the grant monies could be awarded, we had to submit an application to USDOE that met all of their requirements (e.g., an abstract, narrative, grant management plan, project evaluation, and budget), was consistent with the purpose of the grant contained in the Appropriations Act, and was otherwise approvable.
What was the outcome of your effort?
The outcome of our efforts has been threefold. First, we secured a significant amount of money to take the Coalition's work to the next level. Second, as advocates for our profession and members of the Coalition to Address Nevada's Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, we learned valuable lessons in how to effectively interact and connect with our political representatives. Finally, the application process offered valuable opportunities to organize and develop clear project objectives, timelines, and accountability measures that will assist us in future grant writing. We are very excited and grateful to have the means to address professional development, mentoring, and recruitment through the Get the Word Out campaign.
What advice would you give others?
- Focus on initiating positive conversations with congressional representatives, state department of education representatives, and other state and local agencies regarding activities that directly impact students and student achievement.
- Gain their support. Although an agency may not have the financial means at the time you ask for it, support may be available in a variety of other ways and be far reaching and long lasting.
- When approaching political leaders, come to them with an idea or an action plan for how you might solve even one aspect of personnel shortages. Avoid meeting with them just to "admire the problem." Coming to a meeting with viable ideas will enlist more support from the political leaders.
- Discuss the possibility of "joining forces" on a targeted project. Start and continue conversations with congressional representatives as well as state representatives.
- Find out more about grants and grant writing. Many school districts have grant-writing departments.