Foundations offer half billion to support i3 grants

A half billion dollars in foundation money would combine with the U.S. Department of Education's $650 million Investing in Innovation program to support cutting edge ideas coming from the district level, officials said Thursday.

The so-called i3 program was created to give local educational agencies a path for partnering with the private sector on new ways to teach or enhance student performance. But because LEAs are required to put up at least 20 percent matching funds to get the federal grants - many local officials have said they wouldn't be able to participate given extreme fiscal restraints.

That's why the money put up by the 12 national foundations is so important.

This is how we should be working together. This is how sectors should collaborate," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. "If this goes well, think of the possibilities going forward."

The foundations are setting up an online application system, called the Foundation Registry i3. They encourage both large and small proposals to use the registry, which all the foundations will access for evaluation although selection and review would be done separately.

Under the final rules for the i3 program, LEAs would apply for one of three grants:

  • Scale-up Grants, worth up to $50 million: "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."

  • Validation Grants, worth up to $30 million: "Existing, promising programs that have good evidence of their impact and are ready to improve their evidence base while expanding in their own and other communities."

  • Development Grants, worth up to $5 million: "The smallest grant level designed to support new and high-potential practices whose impact should be studied further."

Each applicant will also be required to choose one of four "absolute priorities" that are drawn from the Obama administration's four reforms related to:

  • Increasing the number or percentages of highly effective teachers and principals.

  • Use of data.

  • College and career readiness standards.

  • Turing around low-performing schools.

Like the federal Race to the Top competition, the i3 grants will be judged through a peer review process. Applications are due May 12 with awards set for September.

The Registry i3 is now available at http://www.foundationregistryi3.org.

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