As pandemic relief funds dwindle, fixed expenses increase and student needs become more complex, educators are bracing for a fiscal crisis on the horizon. Tough choices are likely ahead in terms of budget cuts. However, when asked what current expenses could be trimmed in a recent survey published by Education Week, 78% of school and district leaders were unable to think of any—highlighting that finding innovative funding solutions is more important than ever.
To close the funding gap, district leaders are attempting to strengthen existing revenue sources while harnessing additional funding streams like grants, incentives and rebates. “There’s an opportunity to blend and braid those funding streams so you’re not fully dependent on ESSER,” one school administrator told Education Week.
Districts should take a proactive approach to budget management that seeks out creative funding opportunities, such as grants and rebates. These resources can be used for immediate budgetary relief and also help fund projects that can provide long-term savings—thus freeing up money for other needs down the line.
Applying for regional and federal grant programs
Grant funding represents a major opportunity for school districts, but the application process is often a huge hurdle. Recently, many districts ultimately declined to pursue ESSER funding due to the considerable investment needed of both time and resources. This was especially true for schools with limited financial staff members, as the costs greatly outweighed potential returns. And with the average success rate for federal grant applications being only about 58%, it’s unsurprising that many schools don’t allocate resources to grant writing.
Expert grant writing support can be of huge value for school district leaders in overcoming this hurdle. With support, our clients at Schneider Electric have seen an 83.3% application success rate. Here are the key grant application best practices our team keeps in mind:
Awareness: A deep understanding of your district’s needs, plus awareness of all available funding options
Time and Resources: Sufficient allocation of the time and resources needed to apply. Ensure grant applications are submitted at the correct deadline and follow all stated guidelines
Competition: Utilize the latest information to create the most competitive grant proposal possible
Post-Award: Provide required reporting or project documentation in a timely manner
Beyond the application process, schools also under-utilize grant funding because they underestimate the potential value of grants to their long-term operating budgets. Take for example grants related to school security, like the COPS School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP). Many districts have balked at applying because of the perception that while these grants will cover initial costs, they’ll leave the district with ongoing operational costs it can’t afford.
To the contrary, our clients have found that these grants not only meet their pressing needs for improved security, but also create reliable reductions to their maintenance and energy costs. For example, security vestibules are a proven security measure that also greatly improve the building envelope, saving on energy costs. Indoor and outdoor LED lighting is another security upgrade that also has the added benefit of improved energy efficiency. Every energy dollar saved is a dollar that can be reinvested into the district, extending the value of a grant long beyond the initial payout.
Rebates and incentive programs available for schools
Rebate and incentive programs are another accessible funding source that can have positive, long-term budgetary impacts for school districts. Rebates in this context can fall under two categories:
Utility Rebates: It is common for utility companies to offer rebates for customers who make energy efficiency upgrades. These rebates are a way for utility companies to incentivize reducing demand, which limits their need to build expensive new supply capacity. Since schools are some of the biggest consumers of energy, those that can demonstrate their energy improvements will significantly reduce energy usage – and thus take the burden off the utility – may receive a sizable rebate. Utilities that are closer to capacity are more likely to offer rebates. Another common utility service to consider: Net metering agreements, wherein the utility company agrees to pay for any excess energy generated by consumers. For schools with solar panels, net metering could represent a sizable recurring source of income.
Government Rebates: State and federal rebates made available to schools are generally aimed at partially or fully covering the cost of infrastructure improvements, making it more feasible for school districts to install upgrades that will reduce ongoing energy and operational costs. The EPA is currently administering a $5 billion fund with the goal of replacing old school buses with zero- and low-emission models. And new as of 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for up to 30% in rebates to public entities who install renewable energy or other clean technologies.
Rebate eligibility is generally dependent upon the scope of your project. By considering factors like the demographics of your community or the age of your critical infrastructure, you may qualify for specialized funds you might not have originally known about. As you begin planning any infrastructure or operational project scope, work with your construction partner to evaluate the applicability of the various rebate programs available to you. ESCOs like Schneider Electric generally have extensive experience sourcing and applying for utility rebates, giving you an advantage no matter where you are in the country.
Addressing school funding gaps with innovative funding strategies
Outside funding should not be viewed as just a stop gap, but as an opportunity to make smart investments that will yield long-term budget stability. Whatever you plan to tackle, take a comprehensive approach to budget master-planning that will stretch your funding dollars further.
Schneider Electric offers a comprehensive program that maximizes your ability to secure funding for your projects. Our in-house Energy Incentives Team actively monitors over 52,000 rebate and incentive programs across the US. During the past 15 years, we have helped our clients secure more than $500 Million in rebates, incentives and grants to fund their infrastructure improvement projects.
If you want to learn more about how to put innovative funding to work in your district, contact us to discuss how our team can enable your vision.