The U.S. Department of Education is kicking off its annual Investing in Innovation grant competition this week with $150 million in funding up for grabs. This is the fourth time that the competition has been staged, and this year marks a number of changes in how it's run to better meet its goal to identify programs that work well with schools and districts to encourage better academic outcomes.
The competition – known as i3 – aims to encourage programs that improve student achievements especially when it comes to preparing them for success in college. The competition is made up of three distinct grant categories titled Development, Validation and Scale-up.
This week, the DOE is accepting pre-applications for the "Development" grant category. The application periods for the other two categories will be announced later this year.
This year's notice of final priorities for the i3 program reflects the Department's continued commitment to improving education for all students. While the Department continues to focus on broad priorities for the i3 program, the 2013 i3 competition, for the first time, includes subparts under each priority that target specific areas of need. This approach enables the i3 program to build a portfolio of solutions that addresses specific challenges in education. This year's priorities for the Development grant category are: Improving the Effectiveness of Teachers or Principals; Improving Low-Performing Schools; Improving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education; Improving Academic Outcomes for Students with Disabilities; Improving Academic Outcomes for English Learners (ELs); Improving Parent and Family Engagement; Effective Use of Technology; and Serving Rural Communities. The Department has also revised the program's evidence standards and definitions so that applicants can better understand i3's evidence requirements.
The "Development" competition typically draws the most participants because it is looking to award grants to programs that are promising but have not yet been tested in a real-world environment. The pre-application process was introduced to deal with glut of proposals while at the same time easing the process to encourage more people and groups to submit.
This is the second year that the pre-application process is in place after it proved to be a success last year.
In addition, this year the Department has modified the competition to assist grantees in building meaningful private-sector support. The i3 competition requires all grantees to secure private-sector matching funds; i3 Development grantees must secure a private-sector match comprising 15 percent of their budget. Each highest-rated applicant, as identified by the Department following peer review of the full applications, must submit evidence of 50 percent of the required private-sector match prior to the awarding of an i3 grant by the end of the year. The i3 grantees must then provide evidence of the remaining 50 percent of the required private-sector match no later than six months after the project start date.
Those who wish to compete have until April 26th to submit their pre-applications, and the DOE will announce the list of those who have been chosen to compete in the next stage by submitting the full application.