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New round of grants target education innovation

Applications for the second round of i3 grants are due Aug. 2, and grants will be awarded by the end of this year.

The federal government is trying to make it easier to apply for one of its grants for innovative ideas to improve education. But with budget cuts, there’s a lot less money to give away this year.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) gave out $650 million to 49 school districts, charter organization, colleges, universities, and other nonprofit organizations with entrepreneurial ideas for improving the nation’s schools. On June 3, ED announced that there’s $150 million available for the second round of Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants this year.

Nearly 1,700 groups applied for the 2010 grants, which encourage education innovation. Applications are due Aug. 2, and grants will be awarded by the end of this year.

Individual school districts, groups of districts, and nonprofit organizations in partnership with districts or a consortium of schools are invited to apply.

Award amounts have been adjusted in the program’s second year to ensure that applicants have enough funding to carry out their program goals, while enabling ED to fund as many high-quality applications as possible. Grants will be available within the same three categories as in round one:

• Up to $25 million per award will be given for Scale-up grants to applicants with the strongest evidence and track records of success;

• Up to $15 million per award will be given for Validation grants to verify effectiveness for programs with moderate levels of evidence; and

• Up to $3 million per award will be given for Development grants to support new and high-potential practices whose impact should be studied further.

Grant recipients will be required to secure private-sector matching funds of 5 percent, 10 percent, or 15 percent, respectively.

For the second round, ED has included two new priorities focusing on high school graduation rates in rural schools and promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The three priorities that remain from last year’s competition include supporting effective teachers and principals, implementing high standards and high-quality assessments, and turning around persistently low-performing schools. All applicants must address one of these five key areas of reform.

“Smart [education] innovation and entrepreneurship has the ability to dramatically accelerate student achievement and attainment,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The next round of i3 grants will add to the growing portfolio of new and emerging successful practices in education and invest in ideas that help supply teachers and students with the tools they need to be successful.”

Competitive preference will be given to grantees that demonstrate support for improving early learning outcomes, increasing college access and success, addressing the unique needs of students with disabilities and limited English proficient students, or improving productivity or technology.

“Extraordinary work is happening throughout the country with the potential to not only transform our education system but invest in our economy and ensure equal access to a high-quality education for thousands more students,” said Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement. “The Investing in Innovation fund will continue to support promising and proven projects that elevate student performance, close achievement gaps, increase graduation rates, and attract, support and retain high-quality teachers and principals.”

To help schools apply for i3 grants, ED will offer pre-application workshops in the coming weeks, along with several webinars on key i3 topics.

Projects that received i3 grants last year included an initiative that uses data to promote summer reading programs for low-income children in North Carolina; training to help school and district leadership teams implement and support an inquiry-based approach to science instruction; and the School of One, a New York City charter school that provides personalized learning paths in mathematics for every student.

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