Is there are Grant Season?
Heartland is constantly asked this question by organizations we are working with to develop funding and strategic plans. Our answer is somewhat complex as the idea of a “grant season” depends on your funding sources and their requirements. Grant season is also different if you are seeking new funding and launching new projects. Regardless, it can be helpful to view your grant development and management efforts in the context of these three ideas:
1. Federal Grant Writing Season: The federal fiscal year ends on September 30th, the last half of the federal fiscal year is when the greatest number of grants are awarded (April to September). This time frame reflects all 26 federal grantmaking agencies. This timeframe also means that the actual time you will likely be writing federal grant applications is from October through March. I am groaning right now, because every year this means that grant application due dates are around the holidays…
2. State Grant Writing Season: The fiscal year for all but four states ends on June 30th (Alabama and Michigan have a fiscal year aligned with the federal fiscal year, New York has a fiscal year end of March 31st, and Texas ends on August 31st). When it comes to state funding, you will likely experience the heaviest grant writing period from July to December.
So, the answer is: yes, there is a grant writing season. Taking into consideration when federal, state, and foundation grantmaking agencies tend to release their funding announcements and have their due dates can help you anticipate your workflow. It can also help you determine when you will need the most grant writing assistance (either budgetary funds to hire a grantwriter or internal manpower to write grants). If your agency happens to apply for all three types of funding (federal/state/foundation), it would be safe to say that the spring months will have less grant activity, and a good time for a vacation!
You have been given the gift of time. As of today, the designation renewal funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) have not yet been posted. There are many steps that programs that will be relinquishing or competing for their grant can take to get a jump on the FOA. Heartland always suggests starting early so that you have time to craft the best proposal possible. If you would like a copy of an FOA from a prior round of recompetition so that you can start working on your grant, please do not hesitate to contact Andrea at email@example.com. We are happy to find a sample FOA that is similar to your service area that you can use while waiting for the release of the new FOA.
Heartland was also recently made aware that in addition to the FOAs for this round of redesignation, an additional round of recompetition grants will be posted in January. That means that due dates will likely be in February and March (60 days after the FOA is posted). Make sure to review your program planning calendar and schedules to assure that you can set aside dedicated time to work on your proposal, while managing other program planning activities such as your community assessment, strategic planning, and mid-year data tasks. If your program is overwhelmed by these activities or is seeking assistance Heartland is here to help and able to provide high-quality, cost effective services that meet the needs of programs of all sizes.
While the dust is still settling from the presidential election, much is still up in the air about what it means for Head Start. Trump did not comment on Head Start while on the campaign trail. However, from an assessment of his initial appointments and the capture of the House and Senate by the Republican party and the appointment of Rep. Price as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services we can make some inferences and offer a few suggestions that may help guide your program planning and decision making.
Let’s start with Mike Pence. … he has a mixed record on early education to say the least. He did create a small state prek pilot in Indiana, but it only reaches five counties and served just 1,585 four-year-olds in 2015. It is anticipated to grow to 2,300 children next year. He also squandered the opportunity to obtain more than $80 million in funds to expand pre-k by deciding at the last minute to not submit the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge proposal for the state of Indiana, which was already written by a team of early childhood experts convened to design a viable program for low-income children. It is likely this proposal would have been funded as Indiana was just one of two states labeled as a “Category 1” which means it was prioritized for funding. In sum, Mike Pence has voiced some support for expanding early childhood education, but it has not been followed by consistent positive actions.
Representative Tom Price... It is an understatement to say that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has a strong influence on the direction of Head Start. President-elect Donald Trump recently announced the appointment of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as his pick. This appointment poses a potential challenge to Head Start as Rep. Price has long advocated for state control of the Head Start program. In 2003, he proposed a legislative amendment that would establish an eight state pilot program of state-run Head Start programs. While this was defeated, it is is a possibility that this idea could once again become a focus of the Republican dominated legislature. While the Head Start community is equipped with strong evidence of effectiveness and more and more programs already blend state and federal funds to serve low-income children, we will have to utilize our prior knowledge and congressional advocates in new ways to defeat similar proposals that emerge in the coming years.
A Return to the George W. Bush Years… For the second time ever since 1929 (the beginning of the Great Depression), the Republican Party will control the House, Senate, White House, most governorships and state houses, and will decide on a Supreme Court Justice. From 2005-2007, we also saw a Republican majority in the House and Senate, with President George W. Bush in the White House, and conservative Justice John Roberts appointed to the Supreme court.
The Bush years were a dark time for Head Start. Those of you that were working in the program likely remember the introduction of the PRISM as the on-site evaluation tool, the National Reporting System, and continued demands to provide “proof” of the value of Head Start and endless discussions around higher levels of accountability. Determinations of funding for programs were made in Washington, D.C rather than at the region level as were decisions about training and technical assistance. Head Start was held up in a stalled reauthorization and experienced flat-funding for several years, and ultimately a 1% budget cut, which represented the first time the Head Start budget was reduced since the program inception in 1965. A proposal was also on the table to move Head Start from HHS to the U.S. Department of Education. This would have merged Head Start with state programs and imposed new academic standards on the combined program.
What now.. Trump and his Republican Congress will be in power for a minimum of four years. While the Republicans do control the White House and Congress, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will agree on everything. Also, we all know Trump is a bit of a wild card and has proposed child care tax cuts. Perhaps Head Start will also be supported. Any attempt to unravel institutions such as Head Start will take time and coordinated effort. There is no doubt that Head Start will face challenges and threats again. However, we are better prepared than ever to mobilize against them. The program has faced many challenges such as sequestration, expansion of competing programs that impact Head Start enrollment, Designation Renewal, and the Head Start Act. All of which have been navigated successfully. We cannot forget that elected officials are also concerned due to a new sentiment about the power of “angry voters”.
How Can We Move Forward….. At Heartland we view sustainability differently than most other organizations. As a fund development organization our advice to programs is simply .. write more grants. An aggressive fund development plan that prioritizes new programs and projects can offset shortfalls that you may experience in your base funding, be it Head Start, state preschool, or other community development block grant funding. The trick is to start early. Grant development takes time, effort and skill. Often you need to wait for funding to be released and determine if an opportunity is a good fit for your organization. In addition, you may need to apply for a grant more than once to be successful in obtaining funds. Despite these obstacles, the following grant guidelines will help you achieve sustainability in the coming years:
- Only submit proposals that are likely to be funded. There are two main strategies for submitting a high quality proposal 1) hire a grant writing firm to help you obtain funding or 2) invest in grant development training for your staff so that you do not incur grant development fees. Often this decision depends on your program funding streams and how they are restricted. For example, some programs can fund grant writing costs, which dramatically increases your chance of funding due to the experience of the grant writer, while other programs have more flexibility spending training and professional development funds that can be used to hire companies like Heartland to train your staff to write grants at a professional level.
- Set a funding floor for the grants you will pursue. The grant funding floor is dependent on your total program budget, the availability of staff time, and the requirements of your funders. For example, it may not make a difference to have a $2,500 materials grant due to the level of staff time and effort required to implement the project. Heartland recommends pursuing multi-year grants that have a dollar floor minimum of $50,000 annually.
- Include administrative and/or indirect costs in every grant budget. IDR costs can be recouped at 10% for federal proposals, even for institutions that do not have an indirect cost rate.
- Include Cost of Living Adjustments in your proposals. It is likely you will not receive a COLA for a few years for Head Start programs, so look at sharing positions and build in a 3% COLA into annual salary costs.
- Continually monitor the release of new funding opportunities. It is important to keep an open mind about the types of projects that you can take on over the next few years. When you are strategic planning, think about programs that could compliment your existing services. For example, currently there is a Farm to Table Grant that might be a good match for programs implementing CACFP and preschool programming. Make sure to put a process in place and assign a specific staff member to watch for new funding and track funding announcements.
Heartland is positioned to help all types of agencies attain sustainability from the start-to-finish of all funding cycles. We recently became certified in a new strategic planning method called Advanced Visual Facilitation. We are currently packaging strategic visualization consulting with our community assessment and fund development planning services. This allows Heartland to reduce the cost of the community assessment by paring it with other needed services. In addition, we are here to provide professional grant writing, grant development training, and other support for programs looking to incite change or strengthen their existing programs.
On May 26th, the Fifth Cohort of Head Start grantees designated to compete for funding was released (click here to view). This list included 12 programs, which is significantly fewer than in past years. The programs are from 10 states as follows: California (1); Colorado (1); Illinois (1); Kansas (2); Maryland (1); Michigan (1); Oklahoma (1); Pennsylvania (1); Texas (1); and Virginia (1)
This release follows an earlier list of 10 service areas that were posted during the months of March, April and May. According to our analysis, most of the programs included in Cohort five have CLASS scores that are in the lowest 10% of all grantees or scores that do not meet the threshold for 2015. While several programs have also met specified conditions that trigger their entry into recompetition we continue to be concerned that CLASS plays such as large role in programs’ entry into DRS. The following reasons underscore our opinion on this issue:
- CLASS is a valid measure but the way the OHS is using it is not reliable. In order for the CLASS to be scientifically reliable for identifying the lowest quality programs in the country OHS would need to observe all programs every year using the same federal review process. This activity would produce data necessary to determine which programs are truly in the lowest 10% in the nation in regard to their CLASS scores. The way the current system is implemented the scores could skew based on the random sample of programs that are monitored during the federal review process. For example, if the programs reviewed in a given year were all high performing it would skew the CLASS scores higher, thus increasing the minimum threshold for all programs. If a program does not meet this threshold it does not necessarily mean that the program has the lowest quality among all programs.
- There is no guarantee that new Head Start grantees have higher CLASS scores or more experience than programs that lose their grant due to recompetition. In many cases, programs that enter the designation renewal system have lost their grants to programs with less experience. This is becoming more and more frequent. One trend to watch is the degree to which new grants are awarded to child care partners associated with the Early Head Start - Child Care Partnerships program as the Early Head Start – Child Care Partnerships program is expanding the Head Start program into new communities and new types of entities. This is increasing the number of agencies that have experience with the Head Start program which can earn you valuable scoring points on the recompetition grant narrative.
- Other early intervention preschool programs are not held to this standard. Let me qualify this point by saying that, yes Head Start is the “gold standard” of early education programs and should be held to a higher level of accountability due to the vulnerable nature of the children served and the level of federal investment in Head Start. However, the field has not defined the “essential elements” of high quality preschool programs in a manner that has been scientifically validated. We do know about key features of effective interventions, but we do not know “what works, under what conditions, for which children”. Using CLASS to recapture funding is putting the cart before the horse.
It is exciting (and for those in DRS, a relief) when you finally receive notification from the Head Start Regional Office that you have been selected for a grant award. However, the negotiation process can be stressful and grantees are frequently asked to shift funds between Head Start and Early Head Start to meet a certain enrollment target or cost-per-child. The Office of Head Start may also make a request requiring you to change the program design or serve less or more children that you proposed to serve in your grant application. To navigate the negotiation process successfully, it is important to gather some initial information and employ a few basic negation techniques that can help you understand the type of cost-per-child you should be able to receive.
1. Gather Benchmark Data: The cost-per-child is the amount that you will receive for each HS/EHS slot. The average cost-per-child differs according to each grantee and is based on numerous factors such as program design and geographic location. According to national reports, the average cost per EHS slot is $10,500 and the average cost for HS slots is $8,147 (NIEER, 2015 Preschool Yearbook). At Heartland, we see a range of costs and are often surprised when one grantee in a service area has a cost-per-child significantly higher or lower than a peer program located in a different, but similar service area within a state. It is difficult to determine the cost-per-child and it has become even more difficult due to lack of transparency from the Office of Head Start, the combining of Head Start and Early Head Start grant funds, and the proliferation of blended funding. Heartland has been working with federal grants for over 15 years and frequently utilizes our data sources and federal grant information databases along with program information reports to learn the amount that the Office of Head Start is paying a grantee per-child. However, the process does not work for every grantee. If you are interested in talking with us to obtain a cost-per child for a specific service area, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This typically only takes a few minutes and we are happy to help you free of cost. We have also compiled a cost-per-child for each state using the 2015 Head Start funding levels.
2. Justify and Defend Your Costs: Understand why your cost-per-child may be higher or lower than average and create a written justification for your cost proposal. For example, if the state Quality Rating System or your licensing standards require a lower ratio than found in the Head Start Program Performance Standards or if you have a third staff person in each classroom, your cost-per-child may be higher than average. Providing transportation also drives up your cost-per-child. Analyze your costs and decide in advance what you are willing to give up to meet the Region’s request. Avoid having a debate over the phone with your Region Program Officer about whether transportation or a third person in the classroom is the most pressing need. Also, don’t be afraid to express your disappointment as in many negotiations, this can be one factor that leads to larger concessions.
3. Dictate the logistics – Those of you that have entered into negotiations will be familiar with a scenario in with the Region will ask you to make a change to your program, and then request an amended application within a very short timeframe (typically 48 hours). If you need more time to make an educated decision ask for it. This will help you avoid a situation that results in an under-funded program model. Take the time you need to assess all the possible costs and unintended consequences of a program change.