I looked at the check in my hand and read the amount: $1300 to purchase IGDIs assessment materials as part of our MTSS/RtI initiative! This was great news! I had submitted a proposal to purchase materials to a local foundation that supported early language and literacy initiatives and I was awarded the full amount I had requested. This would go a long way to helping us know our students’ current performance levels on a universal screener (IGDIs) that had met rigorous criteria as being a valid and reliable measure of current early language and literacy skills and a strong indicator of later reading fluency proficiency or difficulty.

The scenario above actually took place more than 10 years ago when I was the Student Services Coordinator at Prairie Children Preschool, an award-winning (RtI and PBIS) preschool operated by the Indian Prairie School District #204 as a blended program so young children with disabilities can be educated with their peers who are typically developing (http://preschool.ipsd.org/; http://www.rtinetwork.org/professional/videos/virtualvisits).

We needed help purchasing assessment materials so we could create a differentiated early language and literacy model (Chandler, Miller-Young, Nylander, Shields, Ash, Bauman, Butts, Black, Geraghty, Hafer, Lay, Mitera, Richardson, Steffen, & Summers, 2008; Young, Chandler, Shields, Laubenstein, Butts, & Black, 2008). In 2003, we were looking at creating a two-tiered model; little did we know back then that our proposal of “Sowing Seeds of Early Literacy to Grow a Garden of Readers” would be among our first steps in transforming our program into a comprehensive MTSS/RtI in Early Childhood school.

We’ve shared our “lessons learned” about the journey to become an MTSS/RtI preschool in a variety of resources listed in the Annotated Bibliography at the Center for RtI in Early Childhood. When we meet with people and talk about our program and our journey we are often asked, “Where does one get the funding to start up an MTSS/RtI change process?” So, when asked to share some of our “lessons learned”, we thought that sharing ideas about writing a successful grant proposal for funding start-up activities would be a good place to start.

Keys to Writing a Successful Mini-Grant in Early Childhood

DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT TO DO
Look at documents that describe the various components of the MTSS/RtI in EC model, such as the DEC/NAEYC/NHSA position statement and start to talk with your team members about what you’d like to do to get started. Also, review the information that is available on Implementation Science, and the “Exploration Stage” specifically (Metz, Halle, Bartley, & Blasberg, 2013), so you can come to a consensus on the process you might need to employ to get one of your initial ideas started. Then, start to look for funding sources that can support your school/program moving into a new or modified practice.

Locating Funding Sources

You can always try Google or another search engine and then look through your search results to see if there are any grants available that would match what you have decided you’d like to do. Also, some of the larger districts also have staff members whose primary job responsibility is to help colleagues locate funding sources and then help them write successful proposals. In addition to those more general ideas, we used the ideas described below to fund aspects of our process to change into an MTSS/RtI program/school.

LOCAL FOUNDATIONS AFFILIATED WITH A SCHOOL DISTRICT
An increasing number of school districts are working with community members to create a non-for-profit foundation whose purpose is to support special projects of the local school district, for example: https://www.ipef204.org/. I received funding from the foundation to purchase materials to promote greater acceptance of young children with disabilities in blended classrooms. If there is one available in your area, look to see about making a grant application to fund implementation of a particular practice. If there is not a foundation currently in place, think about working with local community members to create one!

There also may be specialty foundations that would fund certain parts of your MTSS/RtI efforts. That was the case of the grant I received in the opening scenario. I submitted a proposal and received an award from a local foundation focused on supporting educators who wanted to improve language and literacy outcomes in children.

PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
Our MTSS/RtI start up efforts were specifically supported by the National Association of School Psychologists ($100 mini grant for PATHS materials), the Illinois School Psychologists Association [$2500 ISPA Practitioner Grant for Project ELI (Early Literacy Initiative)], and the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education (IAASE) [$1200 grant awarded to examine the impact of our problem-solving model on student outcomes and $1300 grant awarded for Project EMI (Early Math Initiative) to examine interventions, strategies and resources to bolster our Tier 1 early numeracy and math instruction]. So, the sky is the limit in terms of professional associations that might have mini-grants available. Look to the associations where you already hold membership and check at the national, state and local levels. Then think about your colleagues… with whom might you be able to collaborate so that you can write a proposal for funding by another professional association? Try the International Reading Association (IRA), Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA), etc., and various union groups as well (National Education Association – NEA).

CREATE UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS
We first acquired our IGDIs materials more than 10 years ago with the help of Dr. Lynette Chandler when she was a professor at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She had worked with our preschool staff on a number of different curriculum development projects and when we decided to focus on developing an early language and literacy initiative, she sought small funding resources at NIU to support field-based research opportunities. She was awarded several hundred dollars to have the NIU copy center print our first sets of IGDIs picture cards (that’s how we did it back then!).

Several years later, when we starting working with Dr. Robin Hojnoski on an early math and numeracy initiative [developer with Dr. Randy Floyd of the Preschool Numeracy Indicators (PNIs), the predecessor of the myIGDIs Early Numeracy Assessment], Dr. Chandler applied for and was awarded several hundred dollars from NIU. This second grant allowed her to purchase small tape recorders so we could gather data to determine the technical properties (reliability and validity) of the measures and to conduct a study of “teacher math talk” during core curriculum time. So we successfully created a multi-university and school-district partnership that was mutually beneficial to everyone.

There are two other ways to conceptualize a partnership with a university. One, sometimes a masters- or doctoral-level student will want to do a research study and they may have funds to support their study and they need to partner with a district, school or program in order to conduct their study “in-the-field”. So find out which colleges and universities are likely to have students who need to and want to do this kind of research project and then see how you can make them mutually advantageous.

Also, some of the larger colleges and universities want to partner with local districts in order to obtain federal funds to conduct large scale research projects (i.e., Institute of Education Sciences). Making it known that you would like to partner with other institutions can provide funds and opportunities that can help you get MTSS/RtI started.

Preparing the Proposal

READ THE “REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS” CAREFULLY
Make sure you understand what the funder/grantor wants. If you have questions, reach out to the contact person right away and get your questions answered. See if there is a rubric or a checklist that will be used to evaluate the proposals and then ensure that your proposal matches those evaluation criteria.

FOLLOW THE PROPOSAL REQUIREMENTS EXACTLY

  • Proposal Focus: If they want to pilot a new technology that you think supports your MTSS/RtI efforts, they make sure your proposal EXPLICTLY describes how you will pilot a new technology. The funder will want to see the exact link between their awarded funds and the rationale and purpose of your request.
  • Proposal Length and Style: If they want a proposal of 400 – 500 words, then give a proposal of exactly that length. Proposals that are too long or too short suggest that you didn’t care enough to honor the funder’s request and your proposal is less likely to be funded. Some funding groups are more likely to fund a proposal that is written in a strongly academic style, whereas other funders want a more casual tone in the proposal. Be sure to match your title, your writing style, and your proposal presentation to the tone and style of the funder. Check to see if they prefer information in a narrative or in tables; is a particular size and type of font preferred? These decisions all make a difference in the way your proposal is scored and then eventually funded or rejected.
  • Funding Amount and Budget: If they can only fund $1000 then ask for $1000; don’t ask for more. Write down in easy-to-understand terms how you plan to allocate the money to achieve various purposes. Make sure you can link your proposed expenses with the organization’s spending priorities. What is expected in terms of “in kind” support? That typically means office supplies, allowing photocopies to be made, paying the electric bill and salaries of faculty and staff, etc., that your employer agrees to provide to support your proposal. If you are a tax-exempt, how can you use that status to your advantage when ordering materials?
  • Submission Process: Note the date and time of the submission process; do they want a Word document or a pdf? Do you upload it into a system, send it in US mail, or send as an email attachment? Do they look at the postmark date, or the date the proposal was received?
  • Evaluation Process: How do they want you to document that you have achieved the outcomes you set out to achieve? What documentation can you provide that you can follow-through on what you are proposing to do? Will they want a report or a presentation at a later date of the grant activities?
  • Supporting documents: Do you need letters of support? Do you need to submit a resume of any of your team members to strengthen your application? Who else in your organization (principal, superintendent?) needs to know that you are making this request so they can support you?

WRITE THE PROPOSAL AND THEN EDIT AND REWRITE
Have someone else read it, and then have another rewrite. The written proposal needs to be as close to perfect as possible, so please take the time to avoid grammatical and style errors that can be easily identified and corrected.

SUBMIT THE PROPOSAL
Ask to be notified when the submission has been received. Using “please” and “thank you” can go a long way to building a positive relationship with someone who holds the purse strings to MTSS/RtI in Early Childhood start-up money!

Good luck! Plan now to write a grant proposal with your teammates to put start moving your school/program into MTSS/RtI in EC practices for the 2016-2017 school year!

References

  • Chandler, L., Miller-Young, R., Nylander, D., Shields, L., Ash, J., Bauman, B., Butts, J., Black, K., Geraghty, P., Hafer, M., Lay, A., Mitera, B., Richardson, D., Steffen, K., & Summers, D. (2008). Promoting early literacy skills within daily activities and routines in preschool classrooms. Young Exceptional Children, 11, 2-16.
  • DEC/NAEYC/NHSA. (2013). Frameworks for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood: Description and Implications. Web Address: http://www.naeyc.org/content/frameworks-for-rti-in-ece
  • Metz, A., Halle, T., Bartley, L., & Blasberg, A. (2013). The key components of successful implementation. In T. Halle, A. Metz & I. Martinez-Beck (Eds.). Applying Implementation Science in Early Childhood Programs and Systems (pp.21-42). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing.
  • Young, R.M., Chandler, L.K., Shields, L., Laubenstein, P., Butts, J., & Black, K. (2008, May/June). Project ELI: Improving early literacy outcomes; An early literacy and language initiative that works, Principal, 14-20.