K–12 Grants

The Important Role of Data to Maximize Grant Funding

By Katie Gramajo

Federal and state governments announce available funds to public school districts throughout the year. These are usually tens or hundreds of millions of dollars meant to help schools with infrastructure upgrades or replacements. For example, New York state’s Clean Green School Initiative helps districts with decarbonization and sustainability projects and implementations. Renew America’s Schools Program from the U.S. Department of Energy will fund “energy-efficient and clean energy infrastructure improvements.”

There’s a catch to all these grants, though: Schools must apply for the funding through an oftentimes complicated and detailed application process with a strict deadline. To top it off, there is no guarantee that schools will receive the funds after applying.  To maximize the district's chances of earning these highly sought-after funds for their facilities, it is integral to bring the school’s facility leader into the grant-writing process at the beginning, as they hold the key to the schools’ facilities’ data. The facility manager can help the grant writing team showcase infrastructure and asset data in the application, which they can collect and analyze quickly and accurately by leveraging asset investment planning (AIP) software rather than collecting data manually. This article will discuss how software can help the facilities manager collect and track data, and the important role data plays in prioritizing grants and funding needs. 

The Key to Grant Success: Data

A school district’s facility manager is an essential piece of the puzzle as schools identify and execute grant applications, especially for those targeting infrastructure or sustainability improvements. This is a common theme among today’s education grants, like the $37-million Supporting America’s School Infrastructure program the Biden-Harris administration announced in early 2024. Oftentimes, the grant writers or communications professionals tasked with developing the application forget to include the facility manager in the process, but this mistake could cost the school necessary funds. The facility leader holds the key to the success of the grant: data. Organizations and agencies reviewing applications and awarding grants need to hear more than just the qualitative reasons why the school needs funds for their project—arguably more importantly, they need to see the quantitative reasons.

The facility management team, in charge of tracking the usage and lifecycle of school assets, infrastructure, and energy use, can provide detailed numbers and reports that will bolster the district’s grant application. While the facility team can try to collect these numbers manually, it will be much easier and more precise if the team already utilizes AIP software or a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Regardless, it's hard to ignore the proof that numbers provide, so bringing the facility manager into the grant process from the beginning ensures school decision-makers are leveraging the most accurate data paired with on-the-ground anecdotes from the facility leader to include in the application. This can set the school’s application apart from the rest.

The Importance of AIP Software

Asset investment planning (AIP) software supports data-driven decision making by helping school leaders prioritize capital investments, maximize funding, and create a long-term financial plan. It provides schools with real-time insights into the status of their physical assets and infrastructure, helping them make decisions on which projects to prioritize and where to allocate funds. This streamlined decision-making is especially important as districts must often pick one specific project or area to focus on in their grant applications.

AIP solutions can also track and predict the lifecycle of a facilities’ assets, allowing school districts to collect data across all school buildings. This data can be used when applying for grants to show the usage metrics, age, and other important aspects of the tracked asset. AIP boasts predictive modeling, helping facility leaders prove capital spending needs and assess asset risk and health based on different funding scenarios and deferred maintenance requests. These details allow the facility managers to pinpoint exactly what they’ll use the funds for, whether it’s to upgrade, repair or fully replace the asset in question. AIP solutions also simplify for decision-makers which projects and assets to prioritize, as they can compare data across the various assets and infrastructure and gain insight into the status of critical assets, thereby maximizing funds and resources with real benchmarking data.

Prioritizing Projects and Funding Needs

While districts have more than one asset or project to address at any given time, grant applications often require schools to pick the most necessary, or to conform to the application. With access to data at the beginning of the grant writing process, schools can ensure that they are prioritizing the right project at the right time. For example, funding from New York State’s Clean Green School Initiative is aimed at helping New York public schools with decarbonization and sustainability projects and implementations. Therefore, New York schools applying for this grant should analyze how critically they need to support those types of projects, then pull the school’s energy data to include in the application.   

If time is of the essence, AIP or computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software can help, as these solutions allow the facility management team to quickly find and share the data needed for their application. While both these solutions provide critical data, they are different. While CMMS collects, tracks, and analyzes facilities data, AIP shares budget and financial planning data. Nevertheless, data can also help school leaders, who may not be privy to the details of their school’s infrastructure status, gain valuable insight into the school's facility's needs, allowing finance leaders to make the most informed decisions.

The Road Ahead: Long-Term Planning

AIP software not only helps school districts as they prepare and apply for funding, but it also requires school leaders to address the long-term planning needs of their facilities. In fact, the latest Infrastructure Report Card on America’s schools state that 16% of school districts have not accessed their facilities within the past 10 years, and four in 10 public schools lack a long-term facility maintenance plan. By collecting data on school's assets and infrastructure, district leaders gain valuable insights into which projects to prioritize, and which grants to apply for, resulting in improved resource allocation across the board.

Katie Gramajo is the Senior Education Sector Expert at Brightly Software, a Siemens company.