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Ed. Dept. Announces New GEAR UP Competition That Will Favor Promise Zones

The U.S. Department of Education is launching a new, $75 million round of funding for GEAR UP, a grant competition aimed at increasing access to higher education for low-income students. The department said the grants will be awarded through two rounds and will favor projects designed to coordinate with a Promise Zone—a new initiative that injects high-poverty communities with federal funding to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, and improve educational opportunities and public safety.

GEAR UP launched in 1998 and provides funding for academic support to low-income middle and high school students, including students with disabilities, to help them obtain a high school diploma and succeed in college. According to the Education Department, the grants currently fund 87 programs and serve approximately 420,000 middle and high school students. GEAR UP is just one of the incentive-based grants in the Obama administration's portfolio of competitions that have reshaped the education policy landscape over the past five years by dangling money in front of cash-strapped states and districts.

The Promise Zone program differs from the similarly named federal Promise Neighborhood program, which falls strictly under the Education Department. The Promise Zone program involves multiple federal departments, including Housing and Urban Development, Education, Justice, and Agriculture, and focuses on a range of issues in addition to education. The first round of Promise Zone grant winners included rural districts in Kentucky, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, as well as San Antonio, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.

Though the department didn't indicate which comepition, it first announced in March through the Federal Register that it planned to give applicants an advantage in competitive-grant programs if their proposals mesh with the goals Promise Zones.

In addition to focusing on Promise Zones, this new iteration of GEAR UP will also place a priority on helping to improve students' non-cognitive skills and behaviors, including academic mindset, perseverance, motivation, and mastery of social and emotional skills that improve student success.

"College prep programs like GEAR UP can make all the difference in whether many young people from disadvantaged families can pursue a higher education," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "These grants will help provide the mentoring, resources and financial aid that will offer thousands of students the additional support they need to achieve success in postsecondary education."

Applications for this round are due by July 7, and grants will be awarded by the end of September.

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