Schools need money. As a 30-year veteran of the Wake County Public School System, I know that far better than most. In the last 7 years, spending on students in North Carolina has dropped by 13 percent per student, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Like many industries, schools are making up for this shortfall with salary cuts, layoffs and fewer resources. State, county and city lawmakers are all working to find room in their budgets. Unfortunately, there usually aren’t enough dollars to go around. That’s part of the reason our Teacher Innovation Grants are so important.

Throughout our entire existence, WakeEd has worked with businesses to put money directly in the hands of teachers. It is our oldest program and it has impacted the education of thousands of students. The idea is simple. Our educators in the classroom know what they need to improve education. Our businesses know what skills students will need to succeed once they finish school. WakeEd works to connect those classroom needs with the business interests to fund new and innovative ideas to reach students.

At this point, most of the people I talk to start to mention how great it is that we are giving teachers money. They have heard the same news stories we have. “Our schools need all the money they can get,” they say. However, stopping there only gives you part of the reason our Teacher Innovation Grants are important.

Teachers can apply for individual grants of $1,000 or team grants of up to $3,000. In the face of a $1 billion county budget, $1,000 may not seem like a lot. Can one teacher with an extra thousand dollars for one year really make a difference? We think so. Consider the fact that the teachers who receive these grants do not receive a salary boost. Their work is not reduced and, in many cases, winning a grant adds more work to their job. Yet we have consistently seen higher test scores, more competent teachers and better teaching practices emerge from our Teacher Innovation Grants program.

How can $1,000 make that much of a difference? There are several reasons, but one of the main ones is that it communicates that our educators are not alone. When we invest in our educators, they know that we support them. That $1,000 not only gives new equipment, it also instills a feeling of worth inside the teacher. It says that our community feels our educators are worth our money. Community support is one of the most powerful tools an educator can use to help a student.

This is one of my busiest times of the year. We are currently working to help teachers apply for the grants. Simultaneously, we are talking with several local and global businesses to find funding for the grants. Every year we have more teacher applicants than we have funds. If you or your company is interested in sponsoring a Teacher Innovative Grant this year, please contact us. Whether you can invest in our educators  financially or not, I hope that you will work with us to show support for our educators at some point this year. They really could use all the money support they could get.

Teresa Pierrie is the Director of Programs at WakeEd Partnership. Prior to joining WakeEd she worked as a teacher and administrator for the Wake County Public School System. You can contact her at tpierrie@wakeedpartnership.org.