Tag Archives: Education Grants

The Grantnado Continues: The Department of Education Finally Issues the GEAR-UP RFP—and $650M for Early Head Start

As I predicted last January, the Department of Education has issued the FY ’14 Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR-UP) RFP. While it took longer than I thought, the RFP butterfly has finally emerged from the hidden DOE cocoon. My previous post asked: Why do federal agencies usually keep prospective RFP issuance dates for programs like GEAR UP a secret?

I don’t have any idea why DOE behaves this way, but it’s detrimental to applicants.

The GEAR UP RFP was not issued unit June 4 and the proposals are due July 7—conveniently just after the 4th of July holiday. This means that applicants only have about 30 days to complete a very complex proposal. If they (or, let’s be honest: you) actually want to enjoy the 4th of July weekend, applicants really only have about three weeks to get the job done. If you’re a faithful GWC reader, however, you’d have known the GEAR-UP RFP was coming and could have been working on your proposal well in advance of the RFP being issued.

By the way, GEAR-UP is similar to the many TRIO Programs.* While the various TRIO programs have differing approaches, they all share the same basic goal: to increase the number of low-income students, minority students and/or students with disabilities completing high school, as well as earn a college degree. GEAR-UP is intended to help the same target groups “gear up” for postsecondary education through after school academic enrichment activities during middle and high school.

Continuing the self-congratulatory theme of this post, ACF just issued a huge RFP for the Early Head Start program. This bad boy has $650M up for grabs and 300 grants will be awarded for early childhood education providers. At least the deadline for EHS, August 20, is reasonable—unlike the psychotic GEAR UP deadline.

Last October, Jake predicted that the then-government shutdown and budget deal would lead to a Grantnado of RFPs, as the feds untangled the RFP logjam. The late issuance of the EHS RFP illustrates that the feds have to move money out of the door in any given fiscal year; FY ’14 is unusual because lots of big RFPs are still being issued relatively late in the fiscal year.

* When Jake taught upper division Technical Writing at the University of Arizona, he assigned writing a mock program plan for the Educational Opportunity Centers (EOCs) program—which is part of TRIO—primarily because the EOC RFP was on the street at the time and he’d just finished one, so he was very familiar with the RFP and program. As Jake wrote in this post, his students—all of whom were college juniors and seniors—were mostly unable to write coherent EOC program plans. Perhaps they would have done better if they’d been GEAR UP participants in high school.

The Bizarre RTTT-D RFP Competition Lurches to the Finish

Feeling like exhausted runners at the finish of the now-cancelled New York City Marathon, we recently met the then-deadline for a couple of Department of Education Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D) proposals we’ve been slaving over for the last few weeks. To say this RFP was complex is to not do justice to the word, as it consisted of the 101-page Notice from the Federal Register, as well as the 116-page Application Guidelines, the 33-page FAQ file, and nested Excel budget worksheets.

It is a seldom equaled collection of educatorese, bureaucratese, embedded forms, contradictory directions, and plain stupidity. I’m not sure I’ve seen the like of it in 40 years of grant writing and 20 years at the helm of the good ship Seliger + Associates, and I’ve seen a lot. But, like Phidippides at the first Marathon, we made it to the finish line.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this oddball RFP process were the submission requirements. For reasons obscured by the fog of government ineptitude, the Department of Education chose not to use its G5 system, which recently replaced their “eGrants” digital submission portal, or our old pal, grants.gov.

Instead, we were suddenly back in 1997, with a requirement for an original and two hard copies, along with the proposal files on a CD! I guess the Department of Education has not read the digital memo about saving paper. One proposal we completed was 270 pages, with appendices. Another was 170 pages.

The 270 page Sumo-sized proposal was so fat that we couldn’t find big enough binder clips and had to roll with gigantic rubber bands for fasteners. In the 250 pages of assorted directions, including detailed directions for burning the CD, they forgot to say where the appendix file was supposed to go. Plus, the final document was supposed to be submitted in Adobe Acrobat, be “readable,” and be paginated. We are pretty handy with Acrobat, know how to do this manipulation, and have the hardware horsepower to handle and print massive files (try spooling a 270 page print file with dozens of embedded images or knitting together 25 Acrobat files into a single 33-meg file), so we figured out a workable approach.

But this would have been daunting or virtually impossible for the average civilian grant submitter. Of course, most of this folderol was completely unnecessary, but where’s the fun in a simple and straightforward RFP process to the Philosopher Kings at the Department of Education. Oh, but it does keep us in business, so I guess I should be grateful for endemic (free proposal word here) bureaucratic myopia.

As we were finishing these proposals, it because clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the Northeast. Even though Washington is nowhere near the coast, the feds shut down last Monday, October 29, and Tuesday, October 30—the day of the original RTTT-D deadline. The brave GS-11s and 12s at the Department of Education quickly flung out an email extending the deadline, as they raced back to their cozy burrows. Even though we correctly guessed that the deadline would be extended, we prudently acted as if it wouldn’t be (this is always a good idea in grant writing), and our proposals were winging their way to D.C. via FedEx by the time the extension was announced (Jake wrote more about this and the other strange effects in “Hurricane Sandy and the Election Combine to Blow Away the RFPs.”

After a cocktail or three to contemplate RTTT-D, it was time to sweep up the shop floor and tackle our next set of deadlines. Such is the life of grant writing consultants. Our road always brings us forward and seldom leaves us much time to reflect.

The Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Notice Inviting Applications Finally Appears

NOTE: The Notices Inviting Applications (NIA) for Fiscal Year 2011 are now available. It took the Department of Education a year and three months to issue the second round, but I suppose that’s better than never.

Subscribers to our e-mail grant newsletter saw that the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) RFP was (finally) released on Friday by the Department of Education, with a deadline of May 11. We’ve already written about i3 twice, including a post about its similarity to other Department of Education programs, like Goals 2000. We’ve also found one nasty trick in the RFP in our first reading.

Virtually every Department of Education RFP has a section at the start that clearly states what types of organizations are eligible applicants. This one doesn’t. Instead, the i3 RFP says on page 8 of 29 that:

Applicant means the entity that applies for a grant under this program on behalf of an eligible applicant (i.e., an LEA or a partnership in accordance with section 14007(a)(1)(B) of the ARRA).

What’s a partnership? Are nonprofits on their own eligible? If you find section 14007 in the American Recovery and Relief Act full text, you’ll see that the legislation is completely clear that an eligible entity is:

(A) a local educational agency; or
(B) a partnership between a nonprofit organization and—
(i) one or more local educational agencies; or
(ii) a consortium of schools.

(Emphasis added.)

So an LEA has to be involved for a nonprofit to apply, but presumably several schools could apply even if their respective districts were not involved in the project. Interesting, but curious. The text at the very beginning of the RFP lists the entities blockquoted above but doesn’t specifically say they are the eligible organizations. There are probably other gotchas too, despite the fact that ARRA was passed in February 2009. We first wrote about i3 in November 2009. The proposals won’t be reviewed until July 2010—almost 18 months after ARRA, which was designed to provide immediate stimulus fund to the economy, passed in Congress.

Another notable aspect to the i3 application process is that the grant writer has to understand the relevant sections of 407-page ARRA, the 29-page RFP, the 76-page application with lots of complex forms, and (get ready for it) the 212-page Final Priorities Notice. While i3 is a great opportunity with tons of money up for grabs, preparing a technically correct proposal will be fantastically complicated and not for the faint-of-heart or inexperienced grant writer. If you’ve never written a Dept. of Education proposal before, this is not a good starter. Isaac uses three monitors as a matter of course; I use two; but you probably need five to have all these documents open at once. Writer beware.