The recent tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT will likely lead to new grant opportunities in school safety, safer facilities, and safety training, as well as mental health and at-risk youth services. It is a sad reality that shocking events often result in new grant programs and increased funding for existing programs, largely because politicians are chronically infected with “do something disease.” Even when the “something” will not necessarily change the dynamic leading to the problem, people feel better when something is being done and politicians are more than happy to oblige.
In the area of gun violence, we last saw this basic phenomenon following the Columbine School School Massacre in 1999. This was the first of what turned out to be a so-far unending series of similar school-based mass shootings. Most Americans were stunned by Columbine, particularly since it occurred in an upper-middle-class community with few obvious social problems facing youth.
Nonetheless, two teens decided to attack their peers because, as Dave Cullen describes in Columbine, one was a violent sociopath and the other was essentially in his thrall. Suddenly, it became clear that more or less all American youth were “at-risk” and the grant floodgates opened for nonprofits and schools interested in trying new approaches to reaching kids, even middle and upper middle class kids, with a variety of approaches.
The 21 Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program was one beneficiary of the national debate following Columbine. Funding for the 21st CCLC program, which was new at the time, was dramatically increased following Columbine. Even more importantly for many applicants, the Department of Education became very interested in funding 21st CCLC projects in relatively affluent areas, so much so that a special funding category for “suburban” schools was established.
While it later evolved to have an academic enrichment focus, the original idea behind the 21st CCLC program was essentially to keep kids in the school setting longer each day. The concept was to provide a safe place for them after school, while making sure they didn’t have enough unsupervised free time to build bombs and steal guns to bring back to school the next day. When the program was block granted to the states about seven years ago, a veneer of academic support was emphasized to both glam up the program and respond to the No Child Left Behind Act’s academic requirements.
We’ve written dozens of funded 21st CCLC grant proposals over the years, including one for a very affluent school district in Colorado not too far from Columbine. Yes, we shamelessly invoked Columbine in this proposal, as well as in other 21st CCLC and other at-risk youth proposals—particularly for projects in middle and middle upper class communities. We continue to do so, but now will add Sandy Hook as another example that even affluent kids face a daunting gantlet* of problems that make them at-risk and in need of wraparound supportive services.** This doesn’t diminish the enormity of the tragedy, but it does provide context and a salient example that reviewers will recognize.
In addition to 21st CCLC, many other federal and state grant programs were created after Columbine to fund such project concepts as hardened school security systems, disaster planning, school resource officers (cops that work in schools) and the like. When Congress returns in January, I expect to see new funding emerge for school safety and at-risk youth programs.
This is because there is a qualitative difference between Sandy Hook and other recent school shootings–in this case, not only were the victims from affluent families, but they were also mostly children. Citizens will demand action and about the only politically neutral and easy action governments can take is to expand funding for services that might help prevent other similar tragedies. “Politically neutral and easy” leaves aside the political minefield of more stringent gun control laws, a subject which is beyond the scope of this post and this blog.
If your nonprofit is concerned with these issues and has the capacity to make a local difference, use your holiday downtime to get your staff and board members together to brainstorm an innovative project concepts that might be relevant to upcoming grant opportunities. As Rahm Emanuel famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”***
* Free proposal phrase here. I know you think it should be daunting “gauntlet,” but that would make it a challenging glove. The word you’re looking for is gantlet. EDIT: Actually, as this commenter points out, either has become correct.
** Another free proposal phrase here.
*** It’s also possible that we’ll start to see changes in the mental health system, since so many shooters have been involved with the mental health system prior to committing their crimes. As Liza Long writes in Thinking the Unthinkable, “When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime.” That needs to change.