The importance of education is obvious when you see the many successes from schools and students across the nation, but what ensures that innovative ideas can become realities? One word - Funding.

Unfortunately, school districts cannot rely solely on general fund dollars to fully support all of the programming and opportunities necessary to meet the academic, behavioral, college/career, and social/emotional needs of the students, teachers, families, and community.

Foundations in the U.S. give away billions of dollars to support education annually. Some grants provide funds for technology, books and other curricular and supplemental materials in schools and community centers, as well as professional development and training for teachers and other providers. Others provide funds for enrichment programs like summer camps to support economically disadvantaged children who could otherwise not afford to participate.

Funding and grant opportunities are more important than ever for the success of a school. From increasing test scores to aiding low-income districts, here are few areas where education grants serve beneficial.

Teachers

According to a new research report from The Economic Policy Institute, teachers earned 17 percent less than other college graduates in 2015. This is the largest gap in the last 35 years, and this gap has grown only larger since 2010. Despite low salaries, 94 percent of teachers spend an average of almost $500 of their own money on supplies for the classroom every year.  Grants can aid teachers by providing extra funds for supplies, professional development, technology, class field trips, and more.

Low-Income Districts

Grants are especially important in K-12 education because they bring extra money directly into the classroom and district. Depending on the grant, this money can support efforts in literacy, STEM, technology, curriculum, equipment, materials, or staffing.  In a lower-funded district, grants becomes  more than just a critical aspect of providing equitable opportunities, they are essential.

Leveraging grant opportunities that provide additional funding has been proven to benefit students and districts as a whole.  When district funding can be utilized for smaller class sizes and additional instructional supports, the outcomes improve dramatically, especially for minority and low income students.

According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, “For poor children, a twenty percent increase in per-pupil spending each year for all 12 years of public school is associated with nearly a full additional year of completed education, 25 percent higher earnings, and a 20 percentage-point reduction in the annual incidence of poverty in adulthood.” A separate study of Massachusetts school districts found that school finance reforms that increased state funding and directed more money to the highest-need districts, “led to a substantial increase in student performance across all districts.”

Academic Achievement

Grant funding given to education is directly related to the quality of education and academic achievement. Three studies by PwC found a statistically significant positive relationship between capital investment and pupil attainment.

Additionally, school and district-wide grants can go beyond the classroom and focus on improving overall school and district climate by funding specific Social Emotional Learning programs that leverage holistic approaches and encourage positive behavior and decision-making.Applying for grants is more than just submitting an application, it’s a chance to change the future and outcome for hundreds of students by giving them resources they would not typically have access to given current school budgets.

For example, T-Mobile’s EmpowerED grant awarded to the MSD of Decatur Township equipped students in grades 3-8 with a personal MiFi hotspot -- closing the digital divide and bettering positioning those students for success in a world increasingly influenced by technology.  The Lilly Endowment Comprehensive School Counseling Initiative grant enabled the district to hire additional staff to support the social and emotional needs of students and develop an evidence-based school counseling program.  Additionally, Project Lead The Way grants are being utilized to implement a K - 12 computer science program.  These are all examples of providing students with opportunities and support that would not have been possible without the grant funding.

When it comes to education institutions, there are only so many resources and programs that can be funded through the allocated dollars in a district’s budget. Thankfully, there are many grant opportunities available to institutions that can dramatically impact success rates of the students, staff and the community as a whole. As the education landscape continues to evolve throughout the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly crucial for educators to seek out funding opportunities that align with their objectives to better prepare students for future achievement.

Dr. Chris Duzenbery is director for college and career readiness for MSD of Decatur Township.