Amid the polarized debate about teachers unions, it's easy to forget that they play a lot of different roles, and also have some substantial resources to tap.
A case in point: The National Education Association has a philanthropic arm that supports student achievement activities and teacher professional development—one educator at a time.
The NEA Foundation is a distinct and separate organization from the NEA, and one that works with a wide range of stakeholders. Right now, it's accepting applications for its Learning and Leadership Grants program, which enables public school teachers, counselors, school support workers and public higher education faculty and staff members to fund high-quality professional development activities. These include summer institutes and action research projects. Groups of educators can receive NEA Foundation grants for collegial study activities, such as study groups, action research, lesson study, or mentoring experiences for new faculty and staff.
Grants are $2,000 for individual educators and $5,000 for collegial study groups. NEA Foundation accepts applications year-round. Deadlines for applications are February 1, June 1, and October 15 of each year. Grants fund activities one year from the date of the award. You need not be an NEA member to be eligible for a grant, but members will be given preference.
The funder awards between 150 and 170 grants a year, both in its Learning and Leadership Grants program, as well as its Student Achievement Grants. These grants support educators in activities that are designed to improve the educational achievement of students. In contrast to the Learning and Leadership Grants, which fund professional development activities, Student Achievement Grant funds should be directed toward educational materials and experiences for students.
Recent awards from the NEA Foundation have supported kits to help K-5 students construct project-based problem-solving activities, field cameras for high school journalism students, extended learning in STEM concepts for K-5 students, and training to better support students with social and emotional issues.
With Leadership and Learning and Student Achievement Grants, this funder is filling an important gap in K-12 education funding: professional development for individual teachers and student achievement activities, especially for educators in traditional school districts—entities that many funders have turned away from, favoring educational nonprofits, charter organizations and other players in the K-12 field.