Chicago schools looking for partners in bid for more federal dollars

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Chicago Public Schools officials are working against the clock as they begin to solicit proposals from nonprofits that want to partner with the district in a bid for federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants.

 

The district will issue a “request for partnerships” tomorrow (March 19) and expects proposals by the end of the month—just six weeks before the May 11 federal deadline for i3 applications. Dozens of nonprofits have already contacted the district and shown interest in forging partnerships.

[March 20 update: CPS posted the RFP here. (MS Word)]

Chicago Public Schools officials are working against the clock as they begin to solicit proposals from nonprofits that want to partner with the district in a bid for federal Investing in Innovation, or i3, grants.

 

The district will issue a “request for partnerships” tomorrow (March 19) and expects proposals by the end of the month—just six weeks before the May 11 federal deadline for i3 applications. Dozens of nonprofits have already contacted the district and shown interest in forging partnerships.

 

“We apologize for the tight timeline, but we’re subject to the same constraints as everyone else,” says Janel Forde, a CPS leader in the i3 effort who works in the Office of Performance Management. The US Department of Education just released rules last week for the i3 program. “I really have no idea what we’re going to see [in the proposals] or the volume. I’m optimistic they will be competitive and innovative…and that some will come from outside of Chicago, as well.”

The $650 million i3 program, part of the education stimulus package, will award grants to school districts or consortia of schools that partner with nonprofit education groups to bring promising initiatives to scale at the national, regional or state level. To win, applicants must provide evidence that their initiatives will help raise student achievement; grants will range from $50 million for programs backed by the strongest research, down to $5 million for programs that are promising but still in the developmental stage.

 

Districts also must nail down a 20 percent private-sector matching grant, although applicants need only do so after their bid is judged by peer reviewers.

 

Technically, districts can only submit two i3 proposals. It’s unclear, however, if some of Chicago’s schools—especially charter schools—can join a larger network of schools and submit separate bids. According to some foundation leaders in Chicago, the Federation of Community Schools is considering just such a bid and could get bonus points for working with rural districts, a priority for the US Department of Education.

 

If that happens, CPS officials want to ensure their support would not compromise any of their other initiatives.

 

The i3 program has four priorities familiar to anyone tracking the parallel Race to the Top program for states: improving teacher and principal quality, better student assessments, developing college- and career-ready standards, and turning around low-performing schools.

 

“We have to be very strategic in what we put forth because we have limited opportunities,” says Forde. As an example, she says the district’s performance management initiative is interested in finding better ways to measure the effectiveness of teachers in history, art and other disciplines not covered in state tests.

 

Although interested nonprofits have already contacted CPS, the stiff guidelines released by the federal government will likely whittle away some of that interest, she says.

 

Even for powerhouse groups like the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, some promising initiatives will be left out.

 

Tim Knowles, director of the university’s Urban Education Institute, says as many as six ideas for i3 proposals cropped up early at the Consortium. Now, two or three efforts are gaining traction. Among them: a bid to do literacy work in New Orleans; a multi-city project to develop critical predictive indicators like Chicago’s freshman on-track rate; and possibly an initiative to build out tools and metrics for focusing educators on the Consortium’s “five essentials” for effective schools.

 

The competition will be fierce, especially with philanthropic dollars drying up in the rugged economy. “It’s a $650 million pot, and it’s a big country,” Knowles says.

 

He believes Chicago would do well to land $20 million in i3 grants; $40 or $50 million would be remarkable, he says. The trick for Chicago will be in how well the city is able to align district goals and initiatives with those of foundations and nonprofits, some of which are struggling to survive.

 

“I urge people to temper their enthusiasm,” he says.

 

Still, he notes, President Obama’s reauthorization blueprint for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act could make these innovation grants a permanent fixture for schools and nonprofits.