$650M Available for Innovation in Education

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The U.S. Department of Education  today released its “final priorities” and the grant application for the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund. The department says the grants will “support the development of path-breaking new ideas, the validation of approaches that have demonstrated promise, and the scale-up of … proven education innovations.”

While the applicants must include school districts, the announcement says that “nonprofits can join with school districts or a consortium of schools.”

Applicants must address one of four key areas: supporting effective teachers and principals; improving the use of data to accelerate achievement; complementing the implementation of standards and assessments that prepare youths for success in college and careers; and turning around persistently low-performing schools.

In addition, applicants will receive “a competitive preference” (additional proposal points) for projects that address at least one of these priorities: improving outcomes for young children; expanding students’ access to college and preparing them for success when they get there; addressing the unique needs of students with disabilities and of limited-English-proficient students; and serving schools in rural areas.

The announcement stresses that “program evidence is a formal eligibility requirement.” The department will award three types of grants for proposals that are built on different levels of evidence:

  • Development grants will require “a reasonable hypothesis and will be aimed at helping develop fresh ideas.” These grant will be up to $5 million each.
  • Validation grants will require “moderate evidence” and will aim to validate and spread promising practices to regional scale. These will be up to $30 million each.
  • Scale-up grants will require “strong evidence” and aim to bring proven programs to national scale. These will be up to $50 million each.

Grantees will need to demonstrate how their programs will be sustainable after their federal grants run out, and provide a 20 percent cash or in-kind match from the private sector. Toward this end, ED has launched the Open Innovation Portal, an online community where potential partners can connect, share ideas and find resources.

Applications will be due in mid-May, with grants awarded in September. The department will hold Web-accessible informational workshops in Atlanta, Baltimore and Denver starting next week and continuing through the end of this month.

President Obama has proposed an additional $500 million for this program – first funded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – in his fiscal 2011 budget.