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Why 'i3' May Not Have Been Congressional Target

Back when it was looking like Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was going to trim unspent funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay for edujobs, I thought it was pretty likely he'd take money out of the $650 million Investing in Innovation or 'i3' Fund. Instead, he ended up targeting the $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund.

The i3 fund, which is meant to scale up promising practices, seemed like a good target because it hasn't had nearly as high a profile as Race to the Top, which President Obama has personally championed. And, arguably, the program is a lot more likely to generate cries of conflict of interest, no matter who wins the grants. (Example: In numerous public comments, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has touted as success stories groups such as KIPP and Teach for America, both of which stand a good shot a winning an i3 grant.)

But, when the offsets were announced, it was Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and charter schools taking the hit.

Why those programs and not i3? I spoke yesterday to Charlie Barone, a former staffer for Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee, turned lobbyist-extraordinaire, and he speculated that many folks in the House of Representatives were asked by non-profit organizations in their districts to write letters of support for i3 applications. As Michele reported, there are 1,698 applications for the fund, many of whom sought their congressperson's support, creating a sort of built-in public relations and lobbying campaign.

That doesn't seem to have happened, Barone said, to the same extent with TIF and Race to the Top.

"There is an awareness gap between i3 and RTT; i3 may not have been cut because so many congresspeople were asked to write letters of support," he said.

Why does this matter now, especially since it appears unlikely that Race to the Top or the Teacher Incentive Fund will be used to offset an edujobs bill (if there even is one once the Senate gets through with it)?

Well, it may be important for future appropriations. You may have noticed that the bill approved last week by the House subcommittee that oversees education spending included almost as much as the president asked for i3—$400 million on a request of $500 million, as opposed to Race to the Top, which got just $800 million, though $1.35 billion was requested. (No official TIF numbers just yet.) If lots of folks in Congress think organizations in their districts have skin in the i3 game, it may really help that program's staying power.

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