Class Cash: Here's a Nice Pot of Grants for K-12 Teachers to Know About

Alex Trebek often says that teachers are among the best Jeopardy! contestants, along with lawyers, and so the nightly quiz show began a two-week Teachers Tournament in 2011 (so far, no tournament dedicated to attorneys appears forthcoming). In 2016, Farmers Insurance partnered with Jeopardy! by giving each of the 15 educators in the tournament a $2,500 educational grant to fund classroom projects through its Thank America’s Teachers initiative. As part of this program, Farmers gives away over $1 million annually in the form of six $100,000 “Dream Big Teacher Challenge” awards and 180 grants of $2,500 to K-12 teachers across the United States.

That's nice stash of cash for K-12 teachers to know about. And with an interesting backstory, too. 

The purpose of Thank America’s Teachers is exactly what the name implies: showing gratitude for the educators who have inspired us and shaped our lives. “Everyone has a story to tell of their favorite teacher, the one that went above and beyond the call of duty,” Farmers Insurance explains on its website. “But for us, thanking America's teachers is more than about just showing our appreciation. It's also about giving them the ability to make a big impact in their classrooms and community.”

This year’s Teachers Tournament champion, Jason Sterlacci, is going to use his grant to help students at New Jersey’s Burnet Middle School learn about creative writing and publish their own e-books. Other tournament contestants will spend the money on projects such as modular furniture to create innovative work spaces, upgrades to smart boards, a pilot reading program for underperforming students, and new books for a school that hasn’t seen fresh reading materials in a long time.

To submit a proposal for a $2,500 grant before the May 31, 2016 deadline, teachers have to receive a “thank you” through the program (teachers can even thank themselves). Starting in June, people will vote on the proposals to determine the winners. All full-time, currently employed K-12 teachers are eligible to participate.

Unlike Jeopardy! responses, applications need not be phrased in the form of a question.

The $100,000 Dream Big Teacher Challenge is an opportunity for educators with a big idea for how to improve their schools to implement a project that would otherwise go unfunded. Last year, a teacher in Shawnee, Kansas, won with her idea to buy computers and integrate coding into her school’s curriculum. Another teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, was able to build a playground with ramps and other accessible features for students with special needs. The deadline for this year’s proposals is June 30.

We’ve been writing a lot lately about grants for teacher training, which is clearly important in improving education, along with other sophisticated funding efforts. But there are tons of existing teachers who could also use funding of a far more mundane form. Teachers know better than anyone what their classrooms lack, and 92 percent spend their own money on supplies. So it's cool to see a grants program that allows educators to spend cash on projects that they think will make the biggest difference in their schools.