CPS involved in 43 proposals for federal innovation grants

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The deadline passed quietly yesterday for submissions in the $650 million federal stimulus competition known as the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program.

For Chicago Public Schools officials, quiet is good. They have yet to publicly name the organizations with whom they are partnering, lest a competitor use the information to its advantage.

Still, the district did say it will be serving as the lead agency in two “development level” applications—one aimed at school turnarounds and another at beefing up the skills of teachers and school leaders.

The deadline passed quietly yesterday for submissions in the $650 million federal stimulus competition known as the Investing in Innovation, or i3, grant program.

For Chicago Public Schools officials, quiet is good. They have yet to publicly name the organizations with whom they are partnering, lest a competitor use the information to its advantage.

Still, the district did say it will be serving as the lead agency in two “development level” applications—one aimed at school turnarounds and another at beefing up the skills of teachers and school leaders.

Catalyst did not immediately hear back from groups such as New Leaders for New Schools or the Academy for Urban School Leadership, two non-profit organizations that have long worked closely with CPS to develop principals and administer turnarounds of under-performing schools. A number of other school improvement groups may be involved.

Besides turnarounds and improving the skills of educators, the i3 program calls for proposals in two additional areas: data-driven decision making and standards and assessments.

Grants will come in three sizes. The largest are “scale-up” grants capped at $50 million. These grants require the most evidence that a program already improves student performance and can make a splash at the national or state level. Next are “validation” grants, which require moderate evidence of success and cannot exceed $30 million. Winning applications will need to secure, at a later date, a 20 percent matching grant from private donors.

Development grants, like those CPS is pursuing, require the least evidence and will top out at $5 million.

Alongside its two main applications, Chicago has also partnered on 41 other applications, says Janel Forde in the district’s Office of Performance Management. She declined to name any of the partner organizations, but says CPS has attached its name to grants of all three types aimed at all four priority needs.

There are no limits on the number of applications a non-profit, district or consortia of schools can submit. The only limit is a $55 million cap on payouts to the same lead agency.

Organizations were asked to submit letters of intent in the i3 competition by April 1. The Department of Education summarized the results in spreadsheets here.

A total of 86 groups from Illinois filed letters of intent, including 33 from Chicago. Many of the Chicago groups have Renaissance 2010 affiliations, including the Renaissance Schools Fund and charter outfits like Noble Street and ASPIRA, Inc.

Forde says the district has a strict policy against disclosing grant application details until a bid is won. But given the unique nature of the i3 competition, CPS may rethink its position. The grant is ultimately a chance for the U.S. Department of Education to tap the creativity of schools and education non-profits in school improvement planning. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has promised unfettered transparency in the application and vetting process.

Duncan wants Congress to extend the competition next year, and urged applicants that do not win grants to lobby legislators for another round of funding.