i-PRO’s Grants Department Helps K–12 Educators Find Funding for Security Infrastructure
Additional funding for your school’s critical security needs might be out there, but finding it and acquiring it requires a special kind of expertise
- By Amy Bolin
- December 01, 2022
Nothing should be more important than school safety and security. However, when it comes to procuring funds to install, improve, or upgrade physical security and infrastructure, many schools find themselves struggling to meet their most basic operating expenses, much less anything else. Schools traditionally receive their budget allocations through a state legislature, via local funding or local school boards where they go through an approval process based on the calendar year. Unfortunately for most school administrators, they must squeeze into that allocation, and there’s never enough to go around. The pandemic only exacerbated this issue by requiring additional unplanned expenses to enable remote learning and create safe, modified learning environments. Given these circumstances, what can a school do to better protect students?
If they’re unable to raise these important funds as part their normal budget cycle, schools might wish to pursue additional funding from local infrastructure bonds or state/federal grants. However, just because there might be funds available for such projects, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy to get. Finding such funding requires the knowledge of where to look. Resources and time for such endeavors are severely constrained for many school districts where educators and staff are required to wear multiple hats. Finding anyone to pursue security funding amongst the myriad of duties already on their shoulders is asking a lot. Even for a would-be volunteer, the level of expertise and time required to research and secure grant money can be overwhelming for anyone not intimately familiar with the process.
Grant Experts to the Rescue
Realizing the inherent difficultly surrounding the process of researching and applying for grant funding, i-PRO, previously as Panasonic, set up a specialized department nine years ago to assist K–12 institutions in finding and applying for grant funding for security projects. The program is free of charge, and there are no strings attached, as the primary goal of the group is to help navigate the grant process regardless of how the funds are used. The grants department sees itself as a clearinghouse or a gateway with trusted advisors ready to help navigate an otherwise complex process. The department has an impressive track record to date. Over the nine-year period, it has seen 160 grants awarded, bringing in a total of $42.6 million to K–12 and similar 501 (c) (3) entities. For members of the grants department, it’s a labor of love that begins with a conversation about a school’s security challenges.
The Search for Funding
The first step is for the educational institution to tell the grants department about the security needs of the school. What are the goals of the project? To make the process as easy as possible, the grants team has a tool called the Information Collection Tool (ICT) on the i-PRO website where schools can input their basic information, timeframe (immediate need or planned project), and general security challenges. This generates an assessment request from the grants team and kicks off the process. With this information, the team then ascertains if the security technology improvement project being proposed is a good fit that will allow them to help guide the school through the process.
After the grants department has the details of a school’s project, the next step involves searching for potential funding that might be available to the school based on a number of factors such as its location, size, demographics, and unique security challenges. This typically takes the expert consultants between seven to 10 business days to research. At the end of that time, the school is then presented with a customized report specific to their district that details any grants or foundation money they may be eligible to apply for. The report includes links to the different foundations that will direct them straight to that funding source. The grants team also sends examples of narratives and applications for the various grants they're interested in so that they have a reference point. The grants team then goes over the report with stakeholders at the school and, depending on the school’s resources (such as having an in-house grant writer), that may be the end of the engagement.
Applying for Funds
More often than not, schools ask for additional help to apply for the funding. At this point, the grants department recommends the report be shared widely throughout the district, and a consultative call is scheduled with key stakeholders. From the superintendent, CFO, IT manager, school resource officer and beyond, the more stakeholders that can get involved, the better. The grants team then walks the entire group through each funding option in detail, weighing out the pros and cons based on the desired timeframes and optimum return for the school.
It's important to set realistic expectations with regards to grants, because this type of funding can take time. The grant process and the window for when an application can be submitted, reviewed, awarded, and then distributed to the district could take up to 12 months. Depending on the immediacy of the need, it’s possible that other options can be explored, including tax-exempt leasing and financing options which can then be paid off in a phased approach as grant and foundation money comes in. These options always include the ability to “buy out” at any time.
An important part of the application process is the specification of the actual security equipment desired. This almost always requires a bill of materials (BOM) to be submitted, and i-PRO’s K–12 security advisors are on hand to create a comprehensive BOM that addresses the school’s security needs in detail. It’s important to note that federal grant funding has stipulations on how it can be spent, so the team helps to ensure compliance with Federal Uniform Grant Guidance pursuant to 2 CFR § 200.320 methods of procurement, meaning that all contracts are competitively bid in accordance with statutory law.
The whole process takes dedication, significant time, and resources. It’s no wonder that it can seem overwhelming to anyone without experience. Once the application is submitted, the waiting begins. During this time, the grants team monitors the entire process, including tracking the specific grant to discover who are the awardees. If the grant comes through, it’s a big win deserving of celebration. It takes a village, but there’s no better cause or investment, according to the grants team. If you’re a school struggling to upgrade your security system, it’s important to know that help is out there. You don’t have to go it alone.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.