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President Obama Announces That “Now is the Time to Stop Gun Violence.” But Looking Closely Shows That it is Time for School Districts, Police Departments, and Nonprofits to Start Writing Grants

January 16th, 2013 · by Jake Seliger · 1 Comment

In response to the recent Sandy Hook massacre, the Obama Administration has launched a marketing and legislative campaign called “Now is the time—to do something about gun violence” (if the website doesn’t load quickly or properly, download the .pdf from us), but the most interesting parts of the plan for nonprofit and public agencies are likely to be the least discussed in the media. Presumably the proposals to ban high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks on gun buyers will generate the usual responses on news sites and Facebook, but there’s also a section devoted to “Making schools safer” and “Increasing access to mental health services”—both of which mean money, as we predicted in “Sandy Hook School Shootings Tragedy Likely to Lead to New Grant Opportunities for School Security, After School and Mental Health Project Concepts.”

Though you won’t find most of this information emphasized in the major media coverage, a lot of the money will go to school districts and police departments. For example, “Now is the time” proposes a bunch of money for schools, including:

  • “Congress should provide $30 million of one-time grants to states to help their school districts develop and implement emergency management plan.”
  • “The Administration is proposing a new, $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train their teachers and other school staff to implement [safety] strategies.”
  • “The Administration is calling for a new initiative, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), to provide this training and set up systems to provide [mental health] referrals.”
  • “Congress should provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs, and other school-based violence prevention strategies.”

Not all of these programs will necessarily be funded, but they’re the kinds of programs that are hard to oppose:* Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration will argue that voting against whatever bills get cooked up are votes against kids and cops, both of whom poll well.

These programs are also cheap (by Congressional standards), which makes them politically palatable. Discussing the political possibilities for gun safety rules is beyond the scope of this blog, but there is a chance that Congress will attempt to separate the grant programs from the gun safety rules.

In addition to grants for school districts, the Community-Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS) will “provid[e] a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.” Plus, many of the schools that submit proposals to “a new Comprehensive School Safety program,” will also need letters of support from police departments (and the sub-contracts that often go with those letters), because the program

will help school districts hire staff and make other critical investments in school safety. The program will give $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, social workers, and counselors.

At one point, there was a variant of COPS that was designed specifically for School Resource Officers (“SROs” in the trade); we wrote a couple of them years ago, but the program disappeared and apparently isn’t remembered by the White House staffers who wrote the the Plan.

(A word on COPS: Not all departments love COPS grants, because almost all police departments are unionized, making it very difficult to lay off cops if or when money streams dry up. If you hire a cop for three years, you’ve got her for thirty. As a result, most departments, regardless of what they say about making sure their application will supplement, not supplant, existing officers, only hire cops who they already wanted to hire. Or they use the money to re-hire cops who’ve already been laid off).

Taken together, this suite of proposals should get cities, school districts, police departments, and their nonprofit partners thinking about how they’ll respond when RFPs start hitting the streets.

EDIT: Smart applicants to these kinds of programs should also be thinking about the kinds of language they want to use in proposals for programs that are designed to address contentious issues, because linguistic framing can be an important aspect of proposal success. To see one example of linguistic framing, read Molly Ball’s “Don’t Call It ‘Gun Control’,” which is about the failure of the term “gun control” in the political and marketing arenas. We’ve written about such issues tangentially, in “What to do When Research Indicates Your Approach is Unlikely to Succeed: Part I of a Case Study on the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program RFP,” but the topic as a whole might merit a post of its own.


* Programs that are “hard to oppose” tend to be attached to large-scale Federal efforts, even if you don’t read about them in newspapers; in 2009, for example, Isaac wrote “Looking at the Stimulus Bill from a Grant Writer’s Perspective,” which mentions how the Stimulus Bill was lit up with ornaments for construction spending, COPS, YouthBuild, PHAs, NSP, and other programs.

Congresspeople like to include discretionary grants in larger bills because the Congressperson can then go home and announce that they got millions of dollars for cause X. From the Federal point of view, this money doesn’t mean a lot but does give them some political cover. From an applicant’s point of view, however, programs like these offer a way to fund activities that simply wouldn’t be funded otherwise, or that would have to come from more important funding streams.

Tags: Government · Grants · Media · Stimulus