Questions and Answers from the Webinar on the Solicitation "Developing Knowledge about What Works to Make Schools Safe"

Thank you for your questions during the recent webinar on the Comprehensive School Safety Program.  Note that these questions pertain specifically to the "Developing Knowledge About What Works to Make Schools Safe solicitation," which closes on July 10, 2014.  Below are both responses to general areas of inquiry and to a number of the specific questions.

Topics addressed below:

Application and Grant Award Processes

Answers to general questions about the application process:

  • The application process is described in the solicitation.
  • Winning proposals are those that show the authors:
    (View a sample of a good application).
    • Followed the instructions
    • Have strong research question and design
    • Propose innovative ideas
    • Are financially responsible
  • The deadline is firm: July 10, 2014.
  • All potential applicants were made aware of the deadline at the same time; that is, no one had prior knowledge.
  • Schools can submit more than one application, but every application must be for a different idea.
  • Researchers may partner with more than one school, and schools may partner with multiple researchers.
  • Multiple schools may also join forces to conduct compare/contrast research.
Answers to general questions about the grant award process:
  • NIJ funding decisions must be made by September 31, 2014 (the end of the federal government’s fiscal year). NIJ expects to announce the awards sometime in late August or early September. We hope to receive many strong proposals and to fund as many innovative projects as possible, but we are unable to predict how many proposals we will get. At this time, NIJ cannot predict whether Congress will provide funds for another round of proposals in 2015.
  • Award funds will become available no sooner than January 1, 2015, and funding will be withheld until the partners submit formal memorandums of understanding that detail their roles and responsibilities. (Formal memorandums of understanding do not need to be part of the application that is submitted on July 10, but there must be an indication in the application that the partners are willing to enter into formal partnerships if the application is funded.)
Answers to specific questions about the application and grant award processes:
Q: Is the deadline flexible?
A: No.
Q: Do you think that there might be a possibility of an extension being granted for accepting grant applications for this program?
A: No.
Q: It seems that July 10, 2014, is a short turn around. Is that by design or are there schools that were aware of this months ago?
A: We provided as much time for applications as possible. All potential applicants were made aware of the deadline at the same time; that is, no one had prior knowledge.
Q: Do you think there will be another opportunity to apply for a similar grant in the future?
A: Possibly. This will be determined by Congress.
Q: How many applications do you expect, and how many do you think you will fund?
A: We have no estimate of this.
Q: Is there a preference for LEAs over SEAs?
A: There is no preference.
Q: Did I hear you say SEAs had to focus work primarily with one LEA?
A: No, SEA applicants can work with individual schools or with a single or multiple LEAs.
Q: Can a SEA work with the state athletics association, or does it have to be a LEA?
A: Yes, they can work with a state athletics association as one of their partners in addition to their research partner.
Q: Are all schools in a district expected to be involved? Is there a minimum number of schools that should be involved?
A: There is no minimum or maximum number of individual schools, however, the number of schools should be sufficient to conduct robust research into the proposed question(s).
Q: Do you recommend using a professional grant writer to handle the application?
A: We recommend working closely with your research partner on the application process.
Q: Can the LEA subcontract to a law enforcement partner (e.g., county police) to collect data and develop training materials? Is this done through a sub-grant or a sub-contract, or are they "hired" as a consultant?
A: LEAs can partner with local law enforcement agencies.
Q: If multiple school districts are involved, does one of them have to be the "lead," or apply for the others?
A: Yes, there can only be a single applicant who will be held accountable for the implementation of the project.
Q: Is it feasible to apply for both the NIJ grant and the School Climate Transformation grant?
A: Applicants may apply to both.
Q: Are example grant applications available?
A: Yes, they are available on the NIJ website. View a sample of a good application.
Q: Do we need to know the research question before submitting the grant, or can we develop that in Phase I of the grant?
A: Yes, it is important to know the research questions prior to developing the proposal.
Q: Can an organization interested in being an evaluation or TA provider be on more than one application?
A: Yes.
Q: If a school district is looking at two very different aspects of school safety that do not lend themselves to one project and would rely on two different research partners, is it possible to submit more than one application on behalf of the same LEA?
A: Yes, but it is unlikely that NIJ will fund multiple applications from the same applicant.
Q: Can you submit multiple proposals (one for mental health and one for security)?
A: Yes.
Q: Can a research institution be involved in more than one application?
A: Yes.
Q: Can multiple school districts from different states combine so as to increase the ability to compare/contrast research questions and results to increase the degree of new discoveries as an end product?
A: Yes.

Subject Areas

Answers to general questions about subject areas:

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

NIJ is also interested in learning more about the extent and nature of the school-to-prison pipeline and how school safety and security efforts may contribute to it. The school-to-prison pipeline refers to the unnecessary introduction of juveniles to the criminal justice system through harsh punishment processes. It also includes the excessive application of exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions) for minor infractions.

  • First and foremost, winning proposals will use a rigorous research design that answers a significant question that will have an important impact on what is known about keeping schools safe.
  • NIJ is interested in proposals that explore a variety of interventions — including personnel, programs, policies and practices that can be tested — and produce strong evidence on the most significant school safety issues and topics.
  • NIJ is interested particularly in receiving proposals in three areas, either singularly or together:
    • Behavioral health, mental health and wellness
    • Security and preparedness
    • Climate and culture
  • To learn more about the areas of interest:
Answers to specific questions about the subject areas:
Q: Does a project have to focus solely on one of the three or four areas?
A: No. These areas are only meant to help conceptualize the universe of school safety interventions that can be evaluated.
Q: Would establishing a school-based peer review discipline board, coupled with a community-based youth court (for more serious violations that include breaking the law) and supported by in-school prevention education programs to build skills or change behaviors, qualify for a school climate and culture project?
A: This is within the scope of the solicitation.
Q: Is the Security and Preparedness 100 percent funding?
A: There is no local match required.
Q: Would truancy interventions qualify under the school-to-prison pipeline?
A: Truancy programs are within the scope of the solicitation to the extent to which they are tied to school safety.
Q: Can the grant have multiple problem areas (e.g., school security hardware and mental health together) or do we need to pick just one problem area?
A: Yes, multiple problem areas can be included.
Q: Is disaster preparedness considered part of the security and preparedness category?
A: Disaster preparedness activities will be considered; however, they must be connected to broader school safety and security outcomes.
Q: Is there a requirement that you use an evidence-based, packaged program?
A: No. Proposals to test new programs and ideas are welcome, even if there is no existing evidence base. We expect that the proposal would describe an evaluation of the new program so that we can start building the evidence base for it.

Application Review and Selection

Answers to general questions about application review and selection:

  • Applications will be reviewed by peer reviewers from the academic, education and school safety fields.
  • When they evaluate applications, reviewers will largely ask themselves two key questions: "What is the potential impact on school safety?” and "Will the project design allow for a scientifically rigorous evaluation?"
  • NIJ will fund proposals that use the most rigorous methods to test the research questions associated with the intervention the school is introducing. The research methods used are wide open and may include, for example, randomized controlled trials; field demonstration projects; quasi-experimental designs; multi-level, multi-methods; natural experiments; data collection and analysis; and secondary data analysis that complements larger-scale projects based on original data collection.
Answers to specific questions about application review and selection:
Q: Who will be reviewing the applications? Researchers, practitioners or a combination of both?
A: A combination of researchers and practitioners will review the proposals through a peer review process.
Q: Is NIJ more likely to fund a new intervention rather than an intervention that is already evidence-based?
A: The research project should advance knowledge pertaining to a specific aspect or aspects of school safety. We are not interested in testing an intervention that is already thoroughly tested. However, we would be interested in testing in a new setting a program that has a strong evidence base in a different setting. We would also be interested in building evidence for programs that seem promising, but have not been sufficiently evaluated. Completely new, innovative initiatives are also welcome.
Q: Will applications with executed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) be given priority over applications that have a series of letters of support?
A: Fully executed or more complete applications usually receive greater consideration in making final funding decisions. However, MOUs are not required for submission, and letters of support will be considered.
Q: Will proposals that do not include traditional criminal justice actors (law enforcement, SROs) be penalized?
A: Peer reviewers will look for the most appropriate partners given the total project.
Q: What are some of the qualities that reviewers will look for in the proposed research designs?
A: There are a number of factors that contribute to quality research designs. Peer reviewers will be looking for research projects that provide us with strong evidence at the end of the project period.
Q: Is there a preference for LEAs with larger student populations?
A: The number of students should be sufficient to conduct robust research into the proposed question(s). NIJ is interested in proposals to conduct robust research into school safety factors.
Q: Based on your experience, do you anticipate proposals focusing on one age group (e.g., birth to 5 years old) in a pre-kindergarten school environment to have the same priority as other applications focused on secondary safety?
A: Applications must be focused on K-12 environments.  Within that group, applicants can pick the most appropriate age and grade ranges based on their research question(s). 

The School Program Component

Answers to specific questions about the school program component:

Q: In relative terms, is there an interest in evaluating new approaches rather than more conventional security approaches? For example, decision-makers tend to buy cameras, hire SROs or support first responders. Teachers and staff are largely ignored. Would staff training, which allows them to operate as "real-time" responders, be of interest?
A: As we know, first responders usually arrive after events have ended. Staff training on various aspects of school safety is within the scope of the solicitation. The research project should advance knowledge pertaining to a specific aspect or aspects of school safety.
Q: I noted you include a list of programs for high-risk youth as an attachment. If a program has evidence of effectiveness, but isn't on this list, can we implement and test it?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it okay to test whether a school safety academy is effective?
A: Yes.
Q: If we want to try an intervention with freshmen and track their behavior throughout high school through graduation, can we design a four-year research project rather than a three-year project?
A: The maximum project length is 36 months. 
Q: Can we use District Alternative Education Programs?
A: These programs are eligible. Note that as with all research topics, they will be evaluated based on their ability to advance the state of knowledge informing school safety efforts.

The Research/Evaluation Component

Answers to specific questions about the research/evaluation component:

Q: Do we need a “control” school?
A: It is not a requirement to have a control school. Applicants should use the most rigorous methods possible given their research question(s).
Q: Can you talk about what kind of scale is appropriate? For example, would two to three treatment schools and two to three control schools be too small?
A: The scale depends on the research question and methods chosen.
Q: Under Security and Preparedness proposals it may not take as long to evaluate technology requests. Is that a problem?
A: Applicants should select the project time period that best suits the project up to the 36-month limit.
Q: Would a contract with a research partner that exceeds $150,000 per year need a sole source justification?
A: Yes, if it is selected without a competition. Sole source justifications are a standard process.
Q: Are you primarily interested in outcome evaluations, or is there interest in process evaluations as well as outcome evaluations?
A: We are interested in both. Measurement of processes should be integrated in the outcome evaluation.
Q: How are pilot projects of active shooter technologies evaluated given that their impact cannot be directly studied?
A: This is a question to work out with as part of the research design. If the idea cannot be evaluated, then this is not the right place to apply for funding. On the other hand, if the proposal can argue that there are good surrogate outcome measures, perhaps calculated from simulations or mock trials, then NIJ would be interested in considering such approaches.
Q: How much of an extra burden will it be on the schools to implement the research component?
A: Applicants are required to partner with a qualified researcher. The school will have to be involved in these research efforts. Costs associated with this involvement can be included in the proposal.
Q: What are the expectations regarding the number of schools that are necessary for a randomized control trial? How many are needed to constitute a strong research design?
A: This depends on the research question and on the specific methods chosen. A qualified research partner would be able to make these determinations.
Q: Can equipment be used to gather data as part of the grant?
A: The purchase of various types of school safety equipment will be allowed within the context of the broader research project. Any equipment purchased must be directly tied to the research question(s).

Research Partners

Answers to general questions about research partners:

  • Applications must show that the school has entered into an agreement with a research partner. No formal agreement needs to be in place when the application is submitted on July 10, but funding will be not be made available until a formal agreement is in place that details the roles and responsibilities of the partners.
  • Of the total funding requested, one-fourth to one-third must be devoted to conducting the research.
  • Research partners typically are universities and colleges, nonprofits, and research components of a school district, but they may also be individuals with suitable credentials.
  • Researchers may partner with more than one school, and schools may partner with multiple researchers.
  • NIJ is not allowed to publish the names and contact information of participants in the webinar.

Answers to specific questions about research partners:

Q: Do research partners need to be in the same state as the applicant?
A: No.
Q: Can a research partner be a for-profit agency?
A: Yes.
Q: Can a state university be the research partner?
A: Yes.
Q: What is an example of a researcher a school district could partner with?
A: Research partners typically are universities and colleges, community colleges, research firms, and research components of a school district, but they may also be individuals with suitable credentials.
Q: Are you willing to connect researchers to applicants who may be looking for them or otherwise make them aware of each other?
A: View and join a list of possible partner organizations.
Q: Is there a need to have a separate "researcher" and a separate "evaluator," or is that the same person/organization?
A: There does not need to be a separate researcher and evaluator. However, you can partner with multiple entities to be involved in the research and evaluation aspects of the proposal.
Q: Can a research institution be involved in more than one application?
A: Yes.
Q: Can there be more than one research partner — for example, two departments within one university, or two universities?
A: Yes.
Q: Should we identify our research partner formally in our application or does this process happen later during a procurement process?
A: The research partner should be identified.
Q: Would you recommend partnering with the state safety center?
A: State safety centers are a potential partner.
Q: Should the proposal include research consultants who have national expertise, but are not affiliated with the partner research organization?
A: Individual consultants can be included in the project.

Eligibility

Answers to general questions about eligibility:

  • Eligible applicants are:
    • Local education agencies
    • Public charter schools that are recognized as LEAs
    • State education agencies
  • All research must pertain to K-12 schools. Institutions of higher education, such as colleges and universities, are not eligible to apply. However, they are eligible to participate as research partners in the project.
  • The size of the school is not a factor in determining eligibility; a small tribal school, for example, is eligible as long as it is a recognized local education agency. 

Funding

Answers to general questions about funding:

  • NIJ expects that most projects will range from $500,000 to $5 million for the total length of the project (not each year). But smaller and larger projects are also likely.
  • No matching funds or in-kind activities are required.
  • Funding will become available no sooner than January 1, 2015.
  • Applicants must follow their own procurement and contracting procedures.
  • Applicants who enter into an agreement with another entity through a non-competitive process that exceeds $150,000, will be required to submit a sole source justification to NIJ if they are selected for funding.

Answers to general questions about the use of funds:

  • Funds can be used to buy what is needed to implement the research project.
  • At least one-fourth to one-third of the funds must be set aside to conduct the research; the rest can be used to buy what the school needs to implement the research project. If, for example, a school is evaluating the impact of adding School Resource Officers, school counselors or surveillance cameras, the school can use the grant to hire the officers and counselor and purchase the cameras. The key is that the purchase must be tied to the research question the school is attempting to answer.
  • Proposals that are primarily designed to procure equipment and technology without a robust research component designed to determine their effectiveness and potential role in school safety and security will not be considered.
  • All items procured must not supplant existing sources of funding or resources.

Information on What Has Worked In the Past 

CrimeSolutions.gov contains a number of interventions that have been shown to be effective or hold promise for being effective. Visit CrimeSolutions.gov.

Date Modified: June 6, 2014