NEA Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: The NEA Foundation champions public school education by providing grants, awards, resources and visibility to public school educators, school districts, and education-related unions. K-12 education is a primary focus of its mission. In addition to direct funding for educators, the NEA also has a number of separately funded initiatives - most prominently, its Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative, which has invested more than $11 million in targeted districts around the country.

IP TAKE: Grants may be small, but this is an accessible funder that supports a wide array of projects. Keep in mind that eligibility is limited to public school educators (not administrators) and that the award process is highly competitive.

PROFILE: The NEA Foundation is the public charity arm of the National Education Association, a dues-paying membership organization for U.S. public school educators working from the pre-school through the university level. Its mission and vision are direct and straightforward: to ensure a “great public education for every student” by working to improve “student achievement by investing in public education that will prepare each of America's children to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

By the foundation’s measurements, it has invested more than $7 million by way of approximately 4,500 grants going directly to educators. They measure their effect on public school students by assessing that, on average, each grant they give out “impacts the learning of more than 200 students.” In terms of eligibility, the foundation states that any “practicing U.S. teacher, counselor, or education support professional employed by a public school, including public higher education institutions” or “the Department of Defense school system” is eligible.

The NEA Foundation is directly informed by the work done by the National Education Association membership. At the K-12 level, these grants are project- and classroom-oriented. K-12 educators can also apply for opportunities that allow for their own professional development, including coursework, workshops, and conference fees. In all cases, funding generally comes in at about the level of $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for groups.  Grants fall into three categories:

  • Learning & Leadership through professional development and “collegial study” such as “study groups, action research, lesson plan development, or mentoring experiences"
  • Student Achievement through strategies that engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter” as well as “improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection.”
  • Special grants for educators that address specific subjects, grade ranges, and geographic areas 

NEA is keen on new ideas and best practices, and the foundation emphasizes support for projects where teachers and/or education support professionals collaborate with each other and/or administrators. The same goes for school districts teaming up with education-related unions to problem-solve.

Educator-driven grants the NEA Foundation have awarded have run the gamut, from music education projects for students with special needs, to designing a hybrid go-kart, to social media connectivity with a sister classroom in Ecuador. Keep in mind that the foundation is looking to cover the entire cost of the project—it doesn't give partial support—so be sure your total budget and scope-of-project fits within its dollar amount. Also note that by its own account, NEA grants are very competitive, with about 150-170 awarded annually. For teachers seeking help with getting classroom supplies, NEA’s partnership with Donorschoose.org will match public donations of up to $250 (for up to $500 total) towards the purchase of materials.

Separately, the foundation has a few additional funding areas. It also supports larger-scale classroom projects through its Innovation initiatives, through which NEA “identifies new opportunities and tests approaches in public education aimed towards preparing all students to learn and thrive in a rapidly changing world.” There’s no formal application process listed for this program area, however.

The NEA Foundation also takes a structural approach by directly support public school districts. For its largest funding support, the foundation established its “signature” program, the Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative, through which NEA targets specific school districts with a “high number of under-achieving low income and minority school districts.” It’s given out more than $11 million this way, with up to $250,000 per annum going to each district over a five-year period. The foundation doesn’t clearly articulate how these districts are selected, but highlights that collaboration between “unions, school districts, and community organizations” is a must, as is district “coherence” as demonstrated by a “singular focus on teaching and learning” as well as curriculum, assessment, and standards alignment.

If it’s smaller district-based projects you’d like supported, you’re also in luck. On an annual basis, there’s an open application process for school districts, local unions, and community leaders to collaborate on problem-solving a specific education issue they’d like to see improved on a district-level through the foundation’s Institute for Innovation in Teaching & Learning. Examples of support in this realm include addressing common core standards, educator peer review and development, and the very administrative/district structure itself.

There are a couple valuable NEA Foundation resources to check out before you apply or reach out to its staff. The foundation has written its own “how-to” grantwriting guide, and it’s also worth perusing the Huffington Post pieces intermittently written by the NEA Foundation’s President & CEO, Harriet Sanford. The application process is fairly straightforward, with opportunities to apply three times per year.

A few final notes: You won’t find the words “charter school” anywhere on this foundation’s website. The NEA Foundation is singularly focused on public school districts and educators whose checks are cut by those school districts, so if your charter school falls under these realms, you're welcome to join in. Also keep in mind that the foundation has a stated preference for applicants who are themselves NEA members, as well as additional preferences that are grant-specific and worth reviewing as well.

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