Program will help cash-strapped teachers fund their projects

For 14 years, Los Angeles math teacher Darryl Newhouse has run a robotics program aimed at showing inner-city students that careers in science and engineering are just as possible as ones in sports and entertainment. But when funds run short, he digs into his own pocket — often shelling out as much as $5,000 a year.

That's not easy to do on a public school teacher's salary — but now Newhouse will get some help.

The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education is set to announce Monday a groundbreaking initiative that will give L.A. Unified teachers access to hundreds of millions of dollars in funding opportunities through a new website featuring custom grants, training tools and the services of a grant writer.

Called "Grants HQ," the one-stop shop for teachers reeling from steep budget cuts can help connect them to the $5.2 billion spent annually on philanthropic education by many of the nation's 182,000 foundations, according to Andrea Kobliner, the grants specialist who will assist in the program.

Kobliner — known as the "goddess of grants," who has landed more than $400 million in private funding for several school districts — said many foundations are eager to fund education but don't know how to reach schools. And educators often don't know which foundations might be interested in their projects or know how to write a successful grant proposal.

"We're trying to close the abyss between the school and foundations, because no one knows how to cross to the other side," said Kobliner, who taught social studies for more than 30 years before launching her own grant-writing business.

The free website, with a searchable database of all grants by subject area, will save educators the $10,000 annually that Kobliner spends on grant directory membership fees. She will also offer workshops on how to write grants, review all proposals and write letters of endorsement for selected ones.

Messaging is important, she said. Teachers should not pitch their schools as "pity city" with downtrodden students desperate for money, but sell their proposals as successful solutions to problems that foundations can help support.

One of her favorite lines: "Please join me in waging war on failure."

The approach has worked. Kobliner claims a 98% success rate in grant applications of all sizes — including $1,200 for a school garden at Topeka Elementary in Northridge and $59 million and $12 million, respectively, for school improvement and dropout prevention in L.A. Unified.

She said multimillion-dollar grants take particular expertise to write but that teachers should be able to quickly learn to write proposals for up to $50,000.

The L.A. Fund, a nonprofit that has also helped finance arts and school breakfast programs, has kicked in $150,000 to jump-start the grants initiative.

"It's a tremendous way of rewarding teachers who are excited and motivated to bring new ideas into the classroom," said Megan Chernin, the fund's chairwoman.

For Newhouse, a teacher at the James A. Foshay Learning Center, the program comes at an opportune time. Some of the aerospace firms he has relied on for funding have begun cutting back on grants. The shortfalls have forced him to search even harder for the $30,000 needed annually to help students buy parts and build life-size robots, learn computer programming and attend competitions nationwide.

"This is a godsend," he said. "The more resources I have, the less I have to scramble every year."


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