Awards will fund creative programs that aim to solve education problems.

Awards will fund creative programs that aim to solve education problems.

Applications for $650 million in new federal grants that encourage school innovation will be available in early 2010 and due in the spring, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) said in a conference call with reporters Oct. 6. The department estimates that all money under the program will be committed by Sept. 30, 2010.

ED will collect public comments on the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund for the next 30 days, giving educators a valuable chance to weigh in on the program’s proposed rules.

The fund, which is part of the historic $5 billion investment in school reform in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will support local efforts to start or expand innovative, research-based programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.

The $650 million i3 program will award grants in three categories, with winning applications proposing scalable programs that target specific needs such as early learning and decreasing the dropout rate.

“We’re making an unprecedented investment in cutting-edge ideas that will produce the next generation of school reforms,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The i3 competition will provide seed money for fresh ideas, help grow promising programs with a good track record, and scale up programs with proven results to a national level.”

Individual school districts or groups of districts can apply for the i3 grants, and entrepreneurial nonprofits can join with school districts to submit applications. Colleges and universities, companies, and other stakeholders can be supporters of the projects.

Applicants must demonstrate their previous success in closing achievement gaps, improving student progress toward proficiency, increasing graduation rates, or recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals.

Under the proposed priorities, grants would be awarded in three categories:

• Scale-up Grants: The largest possible grant category is focused on programs and practices with the potential to reach hundreds of thousands of students. Applicants must have a strong base of evidence that their program has had a significant effect on improving student achievement. Awards in this category can be as much as $50 million.
• Validation Grants: These are for existing, promising programs that have good evidence of their impact and are ready to improve their evidence base while expanding within their own and other communities. Grants of up to $30 million are possible in this category.
• Development Grants: The smallest grant level, designed to support new and high-potential practices whose impact should be studied further. This category awards grants of up to $5 million.

“We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence, and dramatically improve our nation’s schools,” Duncan said.

Grant recipients will be required to match 20 percent of federal funds with public or private dollars. Successful applicants will need to demonstrate how their programs will be sustainable after their federal grants are completed.

Program evaluators from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of ED, will evaluate i3 applications against standards of evidence to determine which programs show the required quality of evidence for each grant tier, said Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement.

ARRA’s school-reform money also includes the Race to the Top competition, which will reward states that are leading the way in school reform. A final application for $4 billion in Race to the Top grants will be available by the end of the year. ED plans to make two rounds of Race to the Top grant awards in 2010 and might hold a separate competition for up to $350 million for states to create common assessments to measure whether students are on track to graduate and succeed in college and the workplace.

“Through ARRA, we’ve been able to avert an education recession and save thousands of jobs in schools across the country,” Duncan said. “But we also need to invest in the next generation of school reforms and educate our way to a better economy.”


i3 Program Draft

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