‘i3' Winners Pin Down Last-Minute Matches

By Sean Cavanagh — September 10, 2010 8 min read
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Winners of the Investing in Innovation competition scrambled to make a deadline to find private-sector matches for their multimillion-dollar federal awards, meeting the challenge through a mix of cash grants and donations of pricey equipment and services, and by rechanneling previous grants to new purposes.

The 49 organizations selected to receive a combined $650 million in “i3” grants under the federal economic-stimulus program had until Sept. 8 to get matches equal to 20 percent of their awards, which ranged from $5 million to $50 million.

When the official deadline passed, the U.S. Department of Education confirmed that 40 of the winners had submitted acceptable matches. Education Week reached the remaining nine awardees, all of whom said they had turned in materials and were awaiting word on whether their funding plans would be approved by the agency.

The deadline rush proved exhausting for many winners, who said they spent the final days negotiating with Education Department officials or navigating individual foundations’ and other organizations’ rules for giving and receiving the money intended to spur innovative education reform efforts.

“We definitely came down to the wire,” said Kristin Heath Colon, the president and chief executive officer of the Denver Public Schools Foundation, which filed its matching-fund plan on the deadline day. “It was not without a few all-nighters.”

Back and Forth

The Denver school system needed to come up with a $5 million match for the $25 million it received through the i3 competition, money designed to support a plan to help English-language learners and students with disabilities in middle schools.

Finding Money

Winners of the federal Investing In Innovation, or i3, competition faced very different challenges in securing the 20 percent private-sector match to the federal government’s contribution and drew from different sources of money.

• Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP)

Grant will help the organization expand its school leadership-development activities.

Award: $50 million
Required Match: $10 million
Funders include: Wallace Foundation, Bezos Family Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation

• eMINTS National Center, University of Missouri

Grant will support randomized controlled trial of program’s professional development in rural areas.

Award: $12.3 million
Required Match: $2 million
Funders include: School Improvement Network, SMART Technologies, BrainPOP, Tech4Learning, Learning.com, EarthWalk

• Iredell-Statesville (North Carolina) School District

Grant will support efforts to increase teacher effectiveness in working with high-need, limited English, and special education students.

Award: $5 million
Required Match: $1 million
Funders include: Oak Foundation, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Mebane Charitable Foundation Inc., Iredell County Community Foundation, Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation, Lowe’s Charitable and Education Foundation

Source: Education Week

The district gathered $2.5 million of that amount by using a portion of a grant it had received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for another project—supporting teacher effectiveness—and applying it toward the i3 match.

It came up with the remaining $2.5 million from a number of other corporate and philanthropic donors. They include the Piton Foundation, of Denver, and the New York City-based financial-services corporation JP Morgan Chase & Co., as well in-kind donations of equipment and materials from vendors who do business with the district, among them Promethean Inc., which produces interactive classroom technology.

As with other i3 award winners, supporters of Denver’s project struggled to reach foundation officials who were on summer vacations, and in some cases called them overseas to try to nail down commitments, said Ms. Colon, whose foundation is independent of the 78,000-student district but supports it.

Another i3 winner, Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching, or ASSET Inc., went through extensive “back and forth” with the Education Department over the wording in its letters of commitment from foundations, said the group’s executive director, Helen C. Sobehart.

Some foundations originally included language stating that their boards would want to review the grant awards to ASSET each year, as is standard practice for many philanthropies. But that wording raised concerns from department officials, who apparently wanted a firmer guarantee of steady support, Ms. Sobehart said.

Eventually, department officials provided ASSET officials with suggested wording that was satisfactory, which ended up in the foundations’ letters, said Ms. Sobehart. (Like many other i3 awardees, the organization declined to name the philanthropies while awaiting approval from the department.)

ASSET, which works to improve the skills and training of math and science teachers, plans to use its i3 award to establish regional professional-development centers and satellite sites across Pennsylvania.

Federal officials also closely scrutinized the in-kind donations ASSET was to receive, to make sure they served the purpose of the project, Ms. Sobehart said. ASSET’s final matching-plan documents¬—turned in at 9 p.m. on Sept. 8—state that it has secured $9 million in cash and in-kind donations, far exceeding the $4 million required, she said.

The i3 competition was created as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 economic-stimulus package, to support a mix of proven, promising, and cutting-edge projects to raise student achievement. While the i3 program received less attention than its larger cousin, the $4 billion federal Race to the Top competition, it drew intense interest from the education community, with nearly 1,700 applicants applying for aid.

Tight Deadline

Final rules for the i3 grants were announced in March. The winners were named in August, which left them with a little over a month to secure matches if they had not done so in advance.

The process of reviewing the winners’ plans for matching funds to see if they met federal requirements was expected to take at least a few days, Education Department spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya said in a Sept. 8 e-mail. The department had said previously that it could award i3 money to other highly rated applicants in the competition if any of the 49 announced winners did not meet the match requirement by the deadline. Ms. Abrevaya declined to say what steps the department would take if a problem arose with a match. She said the agency would consider all “legally permissible options, if deemed necessary,” after the deadline passed.

The department allows i3 winners to repurpose previously awarded private donations in order to make their match. The department’s guidelines recognize that the funders and recipients would have to negotiate the specific terms of those changes.

A number of finalists had hoped to find help in obtaining matching funds from a consortium of more than 40 funders, including such big names as the Gates and the Ford foundations, which was promoted by the Education Department. Ultimately, the i3 winners’ experiences with that registry were mixed.

The Bay State Reading Institute, which received a $5 million award, applied for funds through the registry but did not get a commitment from any of the participating philanthropies, said Britt Ruhe, the organization’s director of development. One foundation in the registry told officials at the Massachusetts organization that the foundation preferred to work on projects that focused on urban areas. Bay State is a virtual organization that works across districts.

“They felt like it wasn’t enough of a match,” Ms. Ruhe said. Creating the registry was a good idea, she said, though she added that because of the tight deadlines, participating philanthropies probably felt more comfortable supporting i3 winners “who already had those connections” with the foundations.

The Bay State institute ended up getting a match from a variety of cash and in-kind sources, including private donations. The organization’s board also voted to devote some of its reserve funds to cover the match, Ms. Ruhe said.

Alignment Issues

The mismatch between some foundations’ goals and those of the i3 winners was to be expected, said Chris Tebben, the executive director of Grantmakers for Education, a national network of some 260 foundations and corporate-giving programs.

“A funder might be eager to support i3, but if there are not applicants that fit within their specific grantmaking areas, they aren’t able to make a match,” she said in an e-mail. Ms. Tebben said the competition had highlighted a tension between funders’ desire to “leverage resources beyond philanthropy” and their need to “maintain [an] independent role ... and a perspective that is not limited to one [presidential] administration.”

Another winner, the Children’s Literacy Initiative, had better luck through the registry, securing about a quarter of its $4.3 million that way, said Linda Katz, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based group. Her organization had also worked on lining up matching funds well in advance of being named an i3 winner. While she never thought the registry would be “some kind of rescue at sea,” Ms. Katz described the pool of funders as “hugely helpful.”

Lydia Cincore-Templeton, the president and chief executive officer of the Children Youth and Family Collaborative, based in Los Angeles, shared information about her program through the registry website. Soon after her organization became a finalist, officials from the Gates Foundation reached out to her. She said the Seattle-based foundation will finance her organization’s entire match of $729,000 for a program to help children in foster care succeed academically.

New Networking

Other i3 awardees were able to cobble together all the matching funds they needed from a variety of local and national sources.

The Iredell-Statesville school district, in North Carolina, which applied through the registry, instead received its money from several other sources, ranging from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, of Winston Salem, N.C., which contributed $225,000, to the Iredell County Community Foundation, which chipped in $50,000.

“Quite frankly, we didn’t need the registry,” said Dawn Creason, a spokeswoman for the 21,000-student district. “We had a lot of folks step up and help us.”

The federal Education Department tried to help applicants meet the matching requirement, including by holding regular calls with applicants and funders to ensure that “everyone is receiving the support they need,” Ms. Abrevaya said.

The Gates Foundation has strong connections at the department. A top official at the department, James Shelton, was a program director for Gates’ education division, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s former chief of staff, Margot Rogers, also worked at Gates.

(The foundation provides grant support to Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week.)

Some of the i3 winners said the push to secure a match connected them with new funders that could help sustain their efforts after the five-year federal grant has run out.

“We made some good contacts,” said Tom Duenwald, the principal of the 1,050-student Sammamish High School, in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, which plans to use its $4.1 million grant to transform itself into a comprehensive high school focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, known as the STEM subjects.

“We’re finding that we’re going to develop some really strong partnerships,” he said.

Staff Writer Alyson Klein contributed to this report.

Coverage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is supported in part by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at www.hewlett.org, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, at www.mott.org.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘i3' Recipients Dash to Secure Private Match


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