The Utah Public Education Foundation is starting a Grants for Public Educational Excellence Program.

Foundation members hope the program will be a catalyst for educational improvement and innovation in Utah.The program was announced Tuesday to the board of governors of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce by Joe Cannon, president of Geneva Steel and chairman of the UPEF board of directors.

Cannon said all public education classroom teachers in Utah are urged to submit applications for the grant money, which is being raised by private and business interests. The goal is to raise $250,000.

"It has been amazing to see the innovative programs classroom teachers can devise when even a few hundred dollars are made available under a program like this. We are waiting with great anticipation to see the good ideas this program will generate," said Cannon.

Classroom teachers or principals may apply for grants of $500. Team grants from $1,500 to $2,500 are possible.

The purpose of the grant program is to encourage development of innovative approaches to teaching, student motivation and involvement, student mastery of academic skills, parent and community involvement and school administration.

Each of the school districts has been notified about the grant program. Application deadline is Feb. 25.

Because the program is starting with limited funding, Cannon is soliciting funds from the private sector and businesses. Grant recipients will be required to report on the effectiveness of their project once it is completed.

Cannon said the grant program is similar to a program Geneva Steel started several months ago when the firm adopted an elementary school in Utah County where test scores were among the lowest in the area. After an infusion of Geneva money that motivated the students through their teachers, the school now ranks among the highest in test scores, Cannon said.

The best thing about the new grant program is that it cuts through the educational bureaucracy and quickly gets the money to work, Cannon said.