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Gates Awards 'i3' Planning Grants

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving planning grants of up to $100,000 each to nine school districts and charter groups to help them win Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This should come as no surprise given that Gates has already ponied up some bucks to help 15 states win Race to the Top grants. If you'll remember, Gates got some heat for hand-picking these states to help, and so the philanthropy expanded its technical assistance to the rest of the states as well. The deadline to apply for that money was last week, and all I could find out is that "a lot" have applied.

This time, for i3, the chosen school district winners are: Philadelphia, New Haven, Conn., New Orleans, Minneapolis, Houston, and El Dorado County, Calif. In some cases, the grants are going directly to the district, or in other cases, the money is being awarded to the city, or one of the district's philanthropic or nonprofit partners.

Also winning a grant is the Central Texas Education Stimulus Collaborative, which represents Austin and eight other school districts in the region, or about 200,000 students collectively. (In learning about this Texas collaborative, which brings together philanthropy and school districts, it seems like just the kind of thing the education department is looking for.)

The other winners are a group of five Los Angeles charter management organizations that make up the College-Ready Promise initiative, which also won a major teacher-reform grant from Gates, and two New York City charter organizations, the New York City Charter School Center and New Visions for Public Schools.

In making these funding choices, Gates is making clear what its view of innovation is: that charters and districts will work more collaboratively together on education reform. Officially, Chris Williams, a foundation spokesman, said these nine cities all have strong charter school sectors, with at least one high-quality charter management organization. And more broadly, Williams said, "We sought places where districts and charters were breaking through old barriers to transfer knowledge and information across organizational lines."

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