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i3 Grants to Focus on Diversity, Climate, College Readiness, Non-Cognitive Skills

Good news for district officials who were excited about the prospect of federal grants to help schools become more integrated: The U.S. Department of Education is putting a twist on its next—and final—round of grants for the Investing in Innovation program.

School districts that want to test out promising ideas to make schools more racially, economically, and ethnically diverse can apply for an i3 "development" grant (that's the smallest of the program's three categories of grants), according to a notice slated to be published in the Federal Register on Monday.

The department is also looking for proposals that address school climate, college and career readiness, and explore how non-cognitive factors can contribute to student success (like social-emotional learning and perseverance.) Plus, rural projects will get a leg up in the competition. 

The department does a "pre-application" process with folks seeking development grants. Those applications will be available on April 27. The deadline to "pre-apply" is May 25. 

Does the whole federal-grants-for-diversity thing sound familiar? U.S. Secretary John B. King Jr. proposed a separate, $120 million program to address the topic in his budget request earlier this year. So far, though, it's looking really, really unlikely that Congress will take him up on it. And some advocates were miffed that the program would only address socioeconomic, not racial, diversity. (I3 applicants can consider both, or either one. )

Some quick background on i3: It's the survivor among the Obama administration's marquee K-12 grant programs. Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grants are both gone, but the new Every Student Succeeds Act includes a program that looks a lot like i3, called the Education Innovation and Research program (EIR). The department will give out the first round of EIR grants next year, under a new president and likely a new education secretary.

One big change with the new program: It will be a lot harder for the feds to decide what topics grantees should address. The research priorities are supposed to come from the field. So don't count on an EIR competition aimed at diversity. More on i3 in this package of stories, that I wrote with Sarah D. Sparks of Inside School Research fame. 

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