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Got a Big, Innovative Idea? Apply Now to the Education Department

The fourth round of the Investing in Innovation program kicks into high gear today as the U.S. Department of Education announced rules for the "validation" and "scale-up" grants in the Federal Register.

Applications are due July 2 from districts, groups of schools, and their nonprofit partners who have an innovative idea that they want to scale up. Up for grabs are $12 million validation grants and $20 million scale-up grants.

The competition for the smallest "development" grants, worth $3 million, started earlier this spring with a prescreening process.

In total, $135 million is available. The department estimates that up to two scale-up grants could be awarded, between four and eight validation awards, and between 10 and 20 development awards. It's important to note that last year, the department didn't award any large scale-up grants in an effort to spread the winnings around and build a stronger pipeline of good ideas.

The i3 program rewards the most innovative ideas in these three categories, with the largest awards going to the programs with the strongest evidence of past success.

As usual, any winners will have to secure private matching funds of up to 15 percent before claiming a prize. But those rules have been adjusted to make that chore a bit easier. Winners must show evidence that they have 50 percent of their required match by the end of 2013, and the rest within six months of the project start date.

Those who intend to apply for the fourth round contest are asked to notify the department by May 23. This isn't a requirement, but instead more of a courtesy for federal planning purposes.

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