Grant writing is inherently confusing—particularly when it comes to federal “pass-through” grant programs. A pass-through program is one in which the federal government passes grant funds to state or large local jurisdictions based on an allocation formula of some sort. Let’s take a look at one such program, 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC).
The 21st CCLC program started about 12 years ago as a direct federal competitive program from the US Department of Education. Essentially, this program funded and still funds before- and/or after-school enrichment activities—including tutoring, arts and crafts, recreation, cultural activities, computer skills and so forth—along with family literacy and a few other odds and ends. Think of it as more or less a standard Boys & Girls Clubs of America program.
Not surprisingly, Boys & Girls Clubs make great 21st CCLC applicants, as long as they partner with a LEA (“local education agency” in education-speak) or public school, which they all do anyway. The program was well-funded, and we wrote lots of funded 21st CCLC grants around the country. The whole exercise was straightforward because there was one pot of money with fairly large five-year grants available, one annual deadline, and one set of criteria. Of course, this simple approach was too much for Congress, and about six years ago the 21st CCLC program was transformed into a pass-through structure. While every state is guaranteed some money, the smaller states do not get all that much and each state Department of Education runs their own RFA (“Request for Applications”, which is RFP in education-speak) process. The result of this “reform” is much confusion about the program, when to apply, and on and on.
The 21st CCLC situation in California illustrates how a fairly simple program concept can become fantastically complex when the feds take the pass-through approach. Since California is huge, it gets a huge 21st CCLC entitlement. Every few years, the California Department of Education issues not one, but two 21st CCLC RFAs. The FY 2012 RFAs were issued on October 7, including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers – Elementary & Middle Schools program and the 21st Century High School ASSETs (After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens) program, the latter being for high school students. Each RFA is 65 single-spaced pages long, with lots of qualifiers, charts, and tables that are too numerous to recite here. It gets better—there are also on-line application forms. In addition to meeting the basic 21st CCLC federal and state regulations, applicants—which can be LEAs, schools, nonprofits and public agencies—have to find an eligible partner school that does not currently have a 21st CCLC program, or, if it does, the existing program has to be in the last year of operation. Since 21st CCLC grants are actually five, one-year grants, a given school and potential 21st CCLC provider might be out of synch with the application process. This makes it challenge for a non-LEA applicant to partner with the right school at the right time to get a 21st CCLC grant.
Despite the layers of complexity that the California Department of Education and other SEAs (“state education agencies”—this is an acronym-heavy post) have added to the 21st CCLC program, it remains the single best way of funding an after school program. Assuming the red tape can be surmounted, a successful applicant is reasonably assured of five years of funding that can make an enormous difference in the lives of vulnerable children and youth (free proposal phrase here).
And keep in mind that the program is available in every state, as long as you can find it and figure out the application process. To help out, here are links to the 21st CCLC in New York and Illinois. Poke around your SEA website and you should find the 21st CCLC site. Then, determine the funding cycle, line up a school partner and be ready when the RFA is issued. While your investigating the 21st CCLC program, look for state-funded analogue programs too. For example, California has the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program. I’m not sure of the current funding levels for ASES, but it wins the unintentionally funny acronym contest, although it is pronounced “aces,” not as it appears.
Illinois has the better named Teen REACH (Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope program, but children as young as seven can participate, so don’t trust public acronyms. The best of worlds is to combine a 21st CCLC program grant with a state-funded grant, which, for those of you who are old enough to remember, means you will be able to double your pleasure, double your fun.
Other pass-through federal programs, such as HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the Office of Community Services’ (OCS) Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program work similarly to the 21st CCLC program, except they’re even more complicated. I’ve written a bit about CDBG and CSBG earlier and won’t put readers to sleep with more minutia about them. The key point to remember with federal pass-through funds is that applicants have to understand both the underlying federal regulations, as well as the state/local application process.