The folks at the U.S. Department of Education have good reason to break out the champagne—despite some last-minute nail-biting. All 49 of the highest-rated applicants for the Investing in Innovation program were able to secure the required 20 percent in matching funds from private donors, the final hurdle to getting their federal “i3” grants.
It wasn’t easy. Many of the winners were surprised that they didn’t get more help from foundations that had signed up for an i3 registry intended to help put grantees and private funders together. And many said that it was tough to secure the match on a tight timeline of about five weeks, particularly in August, when many foundation officials take vacation. (“‘i3' Recipients Dash to Secure Private Match,” Sept. 15, 2010.)
But, in the end, all winners of the combined $350 million in grants made their match, clearing the way for individual awards ranging from $5 million to $50 million.
The Education Department tried to help applicants by giving timely assistance and feedback, said Shivam Mallick Shah, the director of special initiatives at the department’s office of innovation and improvement. Each grantee was assigned its own program officer; officials swiftly reviewed paperwork, said Ms. Shah.
The department had cautioned high-scorers that they shouldn’t count only on the foundations in the registry for matching funds. Still, Ms. Shah said, the department was “thrilled by the support that the registry was able to provide.” And officials were pleased about the diverse range of national, local, and corporate funders that stepped up.
The i3 fund was created last year under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus program, which mostly covered fiscal 2009 and 2010. Fiscal 2010 ends Sept. 30, so the department had limited time to create the entire i3 program and get the money out the door. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has asked for $500 million to continue the program for an additional year through the regular federal budget.
Ms. Shah said it was too early to say whether the department would tweak the funding process if the money came through. Right now, “we’re really excited,” Ms. Shah said. “We haven’t had a chance to pause and just take it in.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘i3' Match Drama Has Happy Ending