From funds to futures: Questions to consider when designing school grant programs

From funds to futures: Questions to consider when designing school grant programs Education grants can provide much-needed funds, spark innovation and positively impact students’ experience. Copyright: Achmad/World Bank

Consider the transformative power of school grants – they provide more funding enhance access to education and can catalyze learning. But to truly leverage these benefits, we need to get into details, intricacies, and design parameters involved in the process. A new Education Note looks into the questions to answer when practitioners think about starting or redesigning a school grant program for more impact. Below are a few reflections.

The power of clear objectives: Designing effective school grants

Having a crystal-clear objective for implementing a school grant program is the first step towards a successful intervention. Our advice is simple but crucial: know your ‘why.’ One example of a program with a clear vision is the Indonesian Bantuan Operasional Sekolah (BOS) program, which aimed to support direct operating costs, significantly reducing school fees, increasing enrollment, and providing financial assistance to poor children. These objectives were carefully aligned with boosting educational access and enhancing school autonomy.

The importance of financial details: More than just money

While money serves as the lifeblood of any grant, it’s not merely about having funds. Understanding the nuances of financing is what separates a good school grants program from a great one. Before launching into the funding pool, consider the following:

  • Will the grant be unconditional or conditional, and what implications does this choice have for monitoring, supervision, and accountability processes?
  • What percentage or proportion of the Ministry’s budget will be dedicated to grants? Is this sustainable?
  • Will the grants be single or multiyear, and how will this affect school planning?
  • Who will be responsible for managing and disbursing the funds at different levels of the education system?

For example, in Senegal, a project provided a school grant totaling around 1,500,000 CFA Francs ($2,400) per school—a roughly 7 percent increase in expenditures per student, enhancing resources available for learning. In contrast, in Colima, Mexico, each school received at least 50,000 Mexican pesos ($2,900) per year, with further contributions matched by federal, state, and local governments, and school communities. This created an integrated, communal approach to maximize the potential of their school grant and create the right incentives for the decentralized nature of the system.

Rules and regulations matter: Providing clear guidelines

Grant rules help guide schools, reduce misuse of funds, and foster clear communication. To ensure the effective utilization, consider creating a comprehensive guide detailing eligibility criteria, equity considerations, penalties for misuse of funds, and more. In Cameroon, for example, the education system introduced a detailed manual outlining eligible and non-eligible expenditures, providing a clear roadmap for schools receiving the grants.

Keeping track: Accountability is key

Accountability should never be an afterthought in the grant process. Effective tracking mechanisms can ensure funds are used appropriately and contribute to the intended objectives. Interviews, random inspections, and required record submissions can significantly increase transparency and trust. The Gambia offers a model approach—researchers conducted interviews with head teachers and made random classroom observations to monitor fund usage. The trick is the careful balance tracking expenditures and regulations that stifle any attempts to use funds because rules become so convoluted or schools fear penalties and prefer not to use the funds.

Money and beyond: Capacity building for impact

While financial support is the core of any grant, knowing how to effectively use those funds can be a game-changer. Schools, especially their leaders, often need capacity-building activities to learn how to strategically allocate funds to improve learning outcomes and comply with regulations and program objectives. Consider focusing on leadership skills and professional development for school leaders and school management committees.  These leaders, often teachers who have been promoted, can greatly benefit from learning about strategic resource allocation, change management, and leadership strategies to drive their schools forward.

The future of school grants: A world of possibilities

School grants offer more than just financial support; they provide a platform for innovation, autonomy, and strategic decision-making at the school level. They empower schools to create environments conducive to effective learning, from repairing infrastructure to implementing new teaching strategies and responding to the specific and unique needs of each school.

For example, a small grant can support much-needed upgrades and repairs, from fixing broken doors and windows to adding much-needed amenities like toilets, soap, and clean water sources. These may seem minor changes, but they are crucial in creating a safe and inviting learning environment for students.

Grants can also be catalysts for implementing educational strategies tailored to a school’s unique needs. They can support hiring specialized teachers (when rules allow it), investing in additional training for existing staff, or purchasing new teaching materials and resources. The potential here is immense – with the right strategy, grants can enable schools to pioneer innovative educational strategies and make significant strides in improving student outcomes.

They can also help prevent school dropouts and ensure that students continue to receive the education they deserve. Grants can be used to provide financial assistance to students, making it easier for them to afford school fees, transportation costs, and other educational expenses, which can be a decisive factor in whether a student continues their education or is forced to drop out.

Moreover, grants can also help schools become safe spaces for students by funding programs aimed at creating a nurturing, inclusive environments, free from bullying and discrimination. They can support initiatives to improve students’ mental health, fostering a positive school culture, and promoting respect and empathy among students.

Unleashing the potential of school grants

From providing much-needed funds to sparking innovation and change, grants have the potential to transform schools and positively impact countless students’ school experiences.

As we look to the future, we are confident that school grants will potentially play a vital role in shaping the future of education. Importantly, a more focused effort is needed to ensure and understand when school grants can catalyze student learning. While a new paper from Mexico shows that school grants in Mexico had zero impact on student learning even with an intervention to improve pedagogical support for teachers; another recent paper shows that funding earmarked for locally adapted pedagogical innovations in Brazil translated into higher student learning outcomes.

The path to effective school grants may not always be smooth, but with a clear vision, careful planning, and a commitment to transparency and accountability, we can maximize the impact of these valuable resources.

For more information, download our Education Note: Are you thinking about school grants? Some questions to consider.


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Jessica Lee

Education Specialist

Juan D. Barón

Senior Economist, Education Global Practice, World Bank Group

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