April 29, 2010; Source: Associated Press | A coalition of foundations has offered up to $500 million to match federal grants focused on educational reform, taking the pressure off schools scrambling to find the matching funds they need to get the money. Specifically, 12 foundations* will invest $506 million, a portion of which will go into a matching fund for the $650 million federal program “Investing in Innovation.” Ultimately, $1.1 billion will be allocated primarily to projects with a proven track record, although there will be a small amount set aside for new efforts. School districts have until May 12 to apply for the funds, which will be paid out in September.

A unique component of the effort is an Internet portal through which groups can apply for the matching funds from all the foundations in one step. Funders will also be able to post comments, questions, and requests from grantseekers directly on the online applications, as well as see what their colleagues are supporting to avoid giving more than the stated goals.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was “ecstatic” about the foundations’ interest in the program and called the partnership “unprecedented.” The article suggests that the partnership is predicated on foundations’ enthusiasm for the kinds of educational reforms the Obama administration is pushing states and school districts to embrace. Foundation officials quoted in the article, in fact, intimate that this is a model for public and philanthropic partnerships because it will help “scale up” innovation and reform, some of which will emerge “from foundations deep experience” in this area.

Some experts, however, express concern about funding flowing to innovation and improvement when most schools are laying off teachers due to lack of baseline funding. “Let’s fix that first,” said one foundation president, “and then we can talk about new ideas for improvement,” pointing to Senator Tom Harkin’s introduction of a bill that would provide $23 billion in new education funding to the states for saving education jobs as an example of what’s also needed.—Cynthia Gibson

*Participants are the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Robertson Foundation, Wallace Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, and the Kellogg Foundation.