The Search for Technology Funding

Last March, the Department of Education announced $38 million in a federal funding program to help school districts improve and strengthen their emergency response and crisis management plans. The program envisioned 150 grants for funds that could be used to train school personnel, parents and students in crisis response and coordinate with local emergency responders including fire and police; coordinate with health and other agencies responsible for recovery issues; and purchase security equipment.

Funding decisions for this money are being made now. So it’s probably too late for districts that haven’t submitted proposals to do so. But don’t cry over spilt milk. Chances are you wouldn’t have gotten any of these funds anyway. According to Kenneth S. Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, 1,500 school districts expressed interest in those 150 grants the day they were announced.

What about this year? Another $30 million appears in the Education Department’s 2004 budget, which has yet to be authorized. While this continuing program does mention that funds can be spent on security technology, the program managers have stressed that they want to focus on emergency planning and that equipment should be a minimal part of any request. "My guess is that if your application asks for half or more of the money to spend on technology, you won’t get it," Trump says. "I suspect you won’t get funded even if you only plan to spend 25 percent of this money on technology."

Trump and others who keep an eye on government funding programs related to security all agree that grant money for school district technology programs is in short supply.

Take the Department of Education program for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities. "This program has done a lot of good things but has been disappointing for schools interested in technology," says Mary Green, a security specialist with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.

While Safe and Drug-Free funding is relatively small, it does tend to show up in the federal budget every year. The money is usually divided up among the states according to a funding formula. Green’s advice is to find out how this money flows through your state. Some states distribute the money directly to school districts, but others prefer to make distributions through grants from education departments.

The trick, according to Green, is establishing rapport with your state’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools program coordinator. "You have to make contacts," Green says. "Talk to people in that office several times a year, and tell them about your issues. That often pays off."

By discussing your problems, you can also learn about their funding interests, which change from year to year. In a few years, one or another office may develop a hot button for technology, continues Green. The point is you have to lay the groundwork with the people running these programs by talking to them year in and year out.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the Department of Education list serve that summarizes various funding opportunities, and scan the materials you receive for security technology opportunities.

Don’t put all your efforts into studying Department of Education funding possibilities either. According to Trump, the already limited funding opportunities are being reduced. "The Safe and Drug-Free Schools money, for example, is being cut by 35 percent for 2004," he says. "Funding just isn’t there. Even if current funding is renewed, these programs aren’t being sustained and are not meeting the needs of schools."

If the Department of Education doesn’t offer what you need, check into the opportunities within other federal government departments. To get information about security-funding possibilities across the federal government, you can sign up for the Federal Register list serve. Just set your browser for . Scroll to "Other Services" at the bottom of the page. Click on the "sign up" button. You’ll receive the daily Federal Register Table of Contents by e-mail. Search through the information you receive. If something looks like it might work, explore it.

Check out the Department of Justice (DOJ), too. According to Jennifer Drake, an information analyst with the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, you may find Justice Department funding possibilities in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP).

To monitor those opportunities, sign up for a list serve called "Just Info," which is available at . Scroll down the home page, watching the right hand side of the page. You’ll see an entry marked "Subscribe To Just Info." Click on that button and sign up. Grant opportunities will be e-mailed to you. "The information you receive usually has a link to a PDF file describing the program," says Drake. "If you click on the link, you’ll get the PDF."

One DOJ program, for example, provides funds to units of local government to underwrite projects that reduce crime and improve public safety. Called Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG), this program funnels grants into seven specific categories, one of which is "enhancing security measures in and around schools and/or other facilities or locations that the unit of local government considers to be at special risk for incidents of crime." That sounds like a possible source for security technology money.

Check out private sources of funding as well. "Large companies with local offices will sometimes sponsor a program," says Sandia’s Green. "If your school is near an IBM, Intel or other large company office, go and talk to them. They may provide some funding or perhaps loan a security expert to help guide and oversee district projects."

When money is as tight as it is today, persistence is the best tool. Talk to state education department coordinators. Sign up for list serves wherever you find them. Call on the experts. Above all, don’t give up.

BY MICHAEL FICKES Fickes is a freelance writer from the Baltimore area with a number of years of experience in the education field.