November 8, 2012; Source: Education Week

Continuing a 2009 federal grant competition established with economic stimulus funds, last week the U.S. Department of Education announced 20 new winners for its Investing in Innovation (i3) program for a total of $150 million in awards. As defined by the Dept. of Education, the program aims to provide support to schools and nonprofits nationwide that have demonstrated “impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.” Awardees for this most recent round include Jobs for the Future (for an early college partnership program) and Avid (for a program to improve outcomes for rural students). Whereas in past years the Dept. of Education has funded applicants in three separate categories, “development,” validation” and “scale up,” for this most recent round, it only funded “development” and “validation” projects as it sought to stretch available funds.

In a recent blog post, Education Week notes that now, “the only thing standing between the winners and their money is securing matching funds,” which must be completed by December 7th. Because the requirement of raising either a 15 percent funding match (for “development” projects) or a 10 percent funding match (for “validation” projects) is an added challenge for applicants, the Dept. of Education has developed a list of resources on possible funding sources from the private sector.

Included are the i3 Foundation Registry, a registry of 58 foundations with a strong interest in education, which had been maintained by the Gates Foundation and is now managed by the Foundation Center, and the Social Impact Exchange, “a community of funders, advisors, wealth managers, intermediaries, and researchers interested in funding and implementing large-scale expansions of top-performing nonprofit initiatives.” The Dept. of Education notes that in 2011, “40 of the 66 highest-rated applicants that uploaded their materials to the Foundation Registry i3 were matched by one or more Registry funders for a total of $68 million” but adds that “each foundation maintains its own decision-making authority.”

The Dept. of Education requested $150,000,000 for i3 in the coming fiscal year. In earlier reporting on i3, Education Week revealed that one individual’s inability to maintain a match commitment for an i3 project in Oregon could result in “potentially putting the program’s future in jeopardy.” As a premiere federal program designed to promote innovation in education along with collaboration between sectors, i3 does have a powerful potential to bring important new opportunities to students of all ages nationwide. Still, the question of whether the program’s funding requirements are prohibitive for some entities might still warrant further review. –Anne Eigeman