The U.S. Department of Education has announced its final priorities for the $650 million Investing in Innovation, or i3, Fund. Projects that address four priorities – one of which is “serving schools in rural areas” – will receive competitive preference.
Individual school districts or groups of districts can apply for i3 grants. Entrepreneurial nonprofits can join with school districts or a consortium of schools to submit applications.
To qualify for the competitive grants, applicants will need to address one of the four areas driving the Obama administration’s school reform agenda: supporting effective teachers and principals; improving the use of data to accelerate student achievement; complementing the implementation of standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and careers; and turning around persistently low-performing schools.
Applicants will receive a competitive preference if their project addresses one or more of the following priorities: improving outcomes for young children; expanding students’ access to college and preparing them for success in college; addressing the unique needs of students with disabilities and of limited English proficient students; and serving schools in rural areas.
Unlike other federal grant programs where evidence is a selection criterion, in the i3 program evidence is a formal eligibility requirement. The i3 regulations also include specific definitions for what constitutes strong evidence, moderate evidence and a reasonable hypothesis, and will award three types of grants based on these three levels of evidence.
Development grants will require a reasonable hypothesis and will be aimed at helping develop fresh ideas. Validation grants will require moderate evidence and will be aimed at validating and spreading promising programs to regional scale. Scale-Up grants will require strong evidence and will be aimed at bringing proven programs to a national scale.
Once identified as an award recipient, applicants will need to demonstrate how their programs will be sustainable after federal grants are completed. They will also need to find a 20 percent cash or in-kind match of the federal award from the private sector.
To assist recipients in their efforts to find private matches, U.S. Ed has launched an online community, the Open Innovation Portal. Through this portal, the department hopes to facilitate partnerships by convening like-minded individuals to accelerate the development, identification and broad use of innovative products, practices and processes to improve education in schools.
i3 grant applications are available at http://www.ed.gov/programs/innovation/index.html Applications will be due mid-May, with grants awarded in September.
The i3 Fund is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.