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Frustration with i3 Process Prompts Study of Competitive Grants

A rural education non-profit frustrated with the i3 grant process says it will investigate how small and rural school districts fare under the Obama administration's policy of federal competitive grants.

The Rural Schools and Community Trust reported in Rural Policy Matters that it would look at the process and outcome of the current Investing in Innovation (i3) and Race to the Top competitions. Here's a snippet:

"We want to know not only whether competitive grants are reaching high-poverty and other rural areas, but to the extent they are not, why not. Competitive grants are important to (the Obama) administration, but as a principal tool for funding programs to reach high-poverty school districts, they are largely untested."

Read the full article here.

The Obama Administration and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have made competitive grants a key element of the administration's "Blueprint for Reform" ESEA reauthorization strategy. It proposes new or expanded competitive grants in 17 programs areas, including teacher effectiveness, traditional and alternative paths to school leadership, programs for English Language Learners, and charter schools.

Such policies put small, rural school districts at a disadvantage, say educators and lawmakers from rural states. (Check out this EdWeek report back in March by Alyson Klein on the Politics K-12 blog.) Most small districts lack the resource capacity to hire grant writers. Many have too few students to meet the threshold to qualify for competitive grants. And many of the fixes prescribed by the current administration (charter schools and longer school days, for example) are less practical for remote or isolated rural school districts than measures such as distance learning.

The RSCT said it undertook the study, in part, because of its own experiences with the U.S. Department of Education while helping rural school districts compile their applications for the i3 program.

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