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Five Rural 'i3' Grantees Named

The addition of a rural priority area to the federal Investing in Innovation competition has led to five rural groups being among the highest-rated applicants, according to a U.S. Department of Education announcement Thursday.

The department released the names of the 23 highest-rated applicants as potential grantees in the second round of the i3 competition, which is worth $150 million in all. Finalists must secure matching private funds by Dec. 9, depending on the amount of their award.

After the first round of i3 competition, rural school advocates criticized the department for failing to award grants to "authentically rural" communities. A report from the Rural School and Community Trust found that only four grant recipients that time around had innovations that were adapted for a rural context, and only three were "authentically rural."

During this year's competition, applicants were required to focus their proposals on one of five "absolute" priorities. Two new priorities were added, and one of them was increasing achievement and high school graduation rates in rural schools.

The department released information specifically on the impact of adding a rural-focused absolute priority. Five of the 23 highest-rated applicants chose that area—one validation grant serving North Carolina and four development grants serving California, Kentucky and South Carolina. Validation grants of up to $15 million went to innovations with moderate levels of evidence, and development grants of up to $3 million went to promising but relatively untested innovation projects.

The five rural projects included:
North Carolina New Schools Project, a Raleigh, N.C.,-based group receiving a $14.9 million validation grant;
Del Norte Unified School District, a Crescent City, Calif.,-based group receiving a $2.9 million development grant;
Berea College, a Berea, Ky.,-based group receiving a $2.9 million development grant;
Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, a Hazard, Ky.,-based group receiving a $2.9 million development grant; and
KnowledgeWorks, a Cincinnati, Ohio,-based group receiving a $2.9 million development grant.

Other projects did not focus primarily on the rural absolute priority, but are implementing their project in rural districts, such as Old Dominion Research Foundation, which is focused on improving STEM in middle school and plans to work with the Center for Rural Education and Economic Development to disseminate its program to 22 rural areas in Virginia.

Others included: the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project, which primarily has served rural districts in Alaska and will expand into urban districts, and the Metropolitan Education Commission, which is focused on school turnaround and plans to serve the rural Tohono O'odham Nation in southern Arizona.

Federal officials said the number and amount of awards closely matched the breakdown of applications received. Those applying under the rural priority accounted for 17 percent of applicants compared with 22 percent of actual awards. Those rural groups received 18 percent of the funding, or $26.9 million.

One of my EdWeek colleagues, Erik Robelen, is writing a story for next week about the second round of i3 competition, so be on the lookout for it. He also has a comprehensive blog post that's online today.

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