Leander ISD employees will soon be able to apply for grants through a new district fund.

The board of trustees approved transferring $2 million from the district’s general fund balance to launch the Empowerment Grant Fund at an April 25 meeting. The one-time grants will fund programs and new initiatives by staff members as the district's budget tightens amid a lack of state funding, according to district information.

“We need to be able to empower our staff, and that means not just our teachers but all of our educators across the system to be able to do what they need to do,” Superintendent Bruce Gearing said.

The big picture

District officials are developing an application process for the grant fund by partnering with the Leander Educational Excellence Foundation, Gearing said, as LEEF has long awarded grants to district teachers. Any district employee may apply for the new grants by submitting proposals that align with the district’s strategic plan and provide evidence of meeting the district's goals, he said.

The Empowerment Grant Fund could go toward employee programs such as the Empowered Learning Institute, a digital learning team that trains staff and will likely not be funded by the district’s budget next fiscal year, Gearing said. Additionally, more teachers could use the Magic School AI platform to plan and prepare lessons for students, he said.

“I’m excited to see what barriers are going to be removed so our educators can get in the classroom and do what they need to do,” Place 4 board member Anna Smith said.

The context

The district is starting its own grant fund as the state has failed to adequately fund public schools despite having a multibillion-dollar surplus in the 2023 legislative session, Gearing said. While the basic allotment per student hasn’t changed since 2019, LISD has faced double-digit inflation, the loss of COVD-19 relief and special education funding, and increased costs for new school safety requirements, he said.

“I do think it’s very important for everybody to understand that we should not be having to do this this way,” Gearing said about establishing the grant fund.

The $2 million grant fund will add on to the district’s projected $1.5 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2023-24, resulting in a total shortfall of $3.5 million, Chief Financial Officer Pete Pape said. The district is projecting a $15 million shortfall for fiscal year 2024-25, according to district documents.