The folks at the U.S. Department of Education have a good reason to break out the champagne today—all 49 of the highest-rated applicants for the Investing in Innovation grant program were able to secure the required 20 percent private match, the final hurdle to getting their federal i3 grants.
It wasn't an easy process, as we wrote in this story. For instance, many of the winners were surprised that they didn't get more help from foundations that had signed up for the i3 registry, which was intended to help put grantees and private funders together. And many said that it was tough to secure the match on such a tight timeline (about five weeks), particularly in August, when many foundation officials take vacation.
The Education Department tried to help out applicants by giving timely assistance and feedback, said Shivam Mallick Shah, the director of special initiatives at the department's Office of Innovation and Improvement. Each grantee was assigned its own Program Officer at the department so the grantee would have someone to turn to with questions. Department officials reviewed paperwork, such as draft letters of support from foundations, to make sure everything met the necessary parameters, and officials got back to applicants as fast as possible, Shah told me.
In the search for matching funds, the department cautioned high-scorers that they shouldn't count only on the foundations in the registry. "The registry is a different entity than the department," Shah said. Still, she said, the department is "thrilled by the support that the registry was able to provide."
And officials are pleased that a diverse range of funders stepped up to provide matching grants, including national, local, and corporate organizations, Shah said. "It wasn't just limited to a handful of organizations," she said.
As you'll probably remember, the $650 million i3 fund was created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus program, which mostly covered fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Fiscal year 2010 ends Sept. 30, so the department had limited time to create the entire i3 program and get the money out the door. That may have been part of the reason for the tight timeline on securing matches.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has asked for $500 million to continue the program for an additional year through the regular federal budget, and it looks likely he'll get at least some of that money. (A bill passed by a House appropriations subcommittee would include $400 million for the program, and the Senate Appropriations Committee would include $250 million.)
Will the department tweak the funding process in the next round if the money comes through? Shah said it's too early to say for sure, but officials would consider how the timeline and other aspects of the match worked this year.
Right now, "we're really excited," Shah said. "We haven't had a chance to pause and just take it in."