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November 22, 2014

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DOE Finally Opens Federal School Library Grant Application Process

Talk about lousy timing. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) began accepting applications last week for the new Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program—at a time when most school librarians are off on their summer breaks.

Another hitch? The deadline for the school literacy grants is August 10 at 4:30 p.m. EST, which doesn’t give applicants much time to prepare and fill out the lengthy online form.

doe literacy DOE Finally Opens Federal School Library Grant Application ProcessThe American Library Association says it’s grateful that the U.S. Congress-with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) taking the lead-passed an appropriations bill in December, which created the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Program and made $28.6 million in federal funds available for programs that “improve the quality of elementary and secondary education at the state and local levels and help all students meet challenging state academic content standards and student achievement standards.” The bill specifically states that half of the money must go toward school libraries and the other half toward literacy initiatives such as Reading is Fundamental or Reach Out and Read.

But what took the DOE so long to make the grants available, especially since they were expected in late spring, while schools were still in session? Phone calls and emails to DOE officials in charge of the program went unanswered.

“The American Library Association is disappointed that it took the U.S. Department of Education many months to release this grant application,” says Jeff Kratz, assistant director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations, adding that ALA is still grateful for the federal school library funds, which in effect replaces the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries grants that the DOE zeroed out in May 2011. That program was created in 2001 as the only federal program specifically geared toward providing funds for school libraries-and also was spearheaded by Reed.

Both programs distribute competitive grants to help students in low-income school districts have access to up-to-date school library materials. The Innovative Approaches program is specifically designed to support innovative literacy programs for young children, increase student achievement by using school libraries, and motivate older children to read. According to the DOE, the grants are to be used to “develop and improve literacy skills for children and students from birth through 12th grade within the attendance boundaries of high-need local educational agencies.”

Local education agencies must apply for the grants on behalf of school libraries and can use the money to support school libraries and purchase materials. The DOE has emphasized the need for school libraries when it announced the program, saying, “Many schools and districts across the Nation do not have school libraries that deliver high-quality literacy programming to children and their families. Additionally, many schools do not have qualified library media specialists and library facilities. Where facilities do exist, they are often under-resourced and lack adequate books and other materials. In many communities, high-need children and students have limited access to appropriate age- and grade-level reading material in their homes.”

ALA says it “encourages school librarians to apply for the program grants,” which will amount to about 30 grants in the $150,000 to $750,000 range.

Applicants must register with Grants.gov in order to apply, and the DOE says registration may take five or more business days to complete. “We strongly recommend that you do not wait until the last day to submit your application,” reads the DOE website, explaining that Grants.gov will put a date and time stamp on all applications and then process them after they’re fully uploaded. The time it takes to upload an application will “vary depending on a number of factors, including the size of the application and the speed of your Internet connection, and the time it takes Grants.gov to process the application will vary as well.” If Grants.gov rejects an application, applicants must resubmit successfully before the August 10, 4:30:00 p.m. deadline.

By law, half of the $28.6 million appropriated under Innovative Approaches to Literacy must be allocated to a competitive grant program for underserved school libraries, and the remaining money will be allocated to competitive grants for national nonprofit organizations that work to improve childhood literacy. Funding is expected to be distributed no later than September 2012.

To get tips on how to apply for the literacy grant program, visit the ALA Innovative Approaches to Literacy application guide webpage.

About Debra Lau Whelan

Debra Whelan is a former senior editor for news and features at SLJ.

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