A Former First Lady Who Gives Back to Her Former Profession

Established in 2002, the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries is a restricted fund of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Per the former first lady’s former profession as a librarian, this foundation’s mission is to fund “our Nation’s neediest schools so that they can extend, update, and diversify the book and print collections in their libraries with the goal of encouraging students to develop a love of reading and learning.”

As the mission statement clearly delineates, this foundation provides grants solely to school-based libraries, and only the “neediest” schools at that, which the foundation defines as schools whose student populations are composed of at least 85% Free/Reduced Lunch recipients. 

The Laura Bush Foundation has many other stipulations as well, all seemingly structured to ensure the integrity of a true, functioning school library. Two important stipulations: Your school library must be a dedicated library space, and it must have a staff librarian dedicated to the program’s oversight (though that librarian need not have a specialist’s degree).

The foundation will give to pre-K-12 schools of any kind. The foundation says it’s open to “public, private, parochial, charter, city, state, county, and reservation schools, including: special schools, social services schools, and juvenile detention center schools in any of those jurisdictions that serve any combination of pre-kindergarten through high school students.”

Though its flexibility as far as the type of school funded is broad, its use of funds is narrow. Foundation grants must be used for the purchase of books, in which it includes e-books, magazine/periodical subscriptions, audio books, CD-ROMs and Braille. The foundation’s rigorous FAQ section gets into this definition as well as several others.

The foundation also provides a thorough look at its scoring rubric—a refreshingly open look at how you can best position your early education school library to garner funding. The focuses here are on alignment with the foundation’s mission, needs (of the students, the school, and the library), and faculty/school capacity that results in student engagement in the library.

The fourth area of scoring focus is budget. The scoring rubric emphasizes detailed analysis of “amounts” and “types” of books that will be purchased with a Laura Bush Foundation grant. Beyond the scoring rubric, this foundation also emphasizes what specifically is going to be purchased as the way it measures “impact.” Three outputs, with ticking counters, are on the website’s landing page: Total amount in grants distributed (over $13 million to date), number of schools awarded (over 2,500 to date), and number of total books purchased with foundation grant money (currently estimated at more than 7,500). This last statistic is telling; the Laura Bush Foundation wants to be able to talk about numbers of books its dollars buy—so that’s something to think about when you select what you’re aiming to achieve with the foundation’s dollars—and how to frame your program’s budget in the application.

You’ll want to play the output/purchase game as best you can. For the foundation’s 2015 grant application cycle, it funded just over 24% of applications it received (with 538 total applications received). That’s better odds than you receive with many funders, but it’s still competitive.

Laura Bush Foundation grants could provide a healthy amount of books; grants go up to $7,000 per school library. But it will only provide a grant to every school library once, so make your purchase request count.

Over the life of the foundation, it has provided grants to school libraries in all 50 states and D.C., plus U.S. territories and military bases around the world (though schools in Texas, Mrs. Bush’s home state, do seem to receive more awards than anywhere else).

The Laura Bush Foundation has an open, online application with a December deadline. Awards are announced in May and must be used the following school year.