Education Funding

Some i3 Winners Still Scrambling for Grant Match

By Alyson Klein & Dakarai I. Aarons — September 03, 2010 9 min read
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Nonprofit groups and school districts that overcame fierce competition for a slice of the $650 million federal Investing in Innovation Fund—including some of the largest and best-known players in education reform—are racing to meet Wednesday’s deadline for the matching private funds grantees must have in hand to receive the money.

A number of finalists for the “i3” aid had hoped to find help from a consortium of more than 40 funders, including such big names as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Some grant winners say they expected that one or more foundations would contact them to offer matching grants after they were picked for awards of up to $50 million from the U.S. Department of Education.

But that didn’t happen in many cases. Now, some finalists—including the Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation, which is slated for one of the four roughly $50 million “scale up” grants intended for proven programs—find themselves scrambling just days before the deadline.

“It’s going to be right down to the wire,” said Robert E. Slavin, the executive director of Success for All, which received a grant that will be used to broaden its efforts to turn around struggling elementary schools. Though he expects his organization to meet the threshold of a 20 percent match, he said, “I just did not imagine that this was going to be this difficult.”

The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, charter school network has also been working hard to get all its matching funds.

The Investing in Innovation money is part of some $100 billion in education aid provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The program has had a lower public profile than the economic-stimulus law’s $4 billion Race to the Top contest, but it attracted 1,698 applications. Just 49 were awarded grants. The money is aimed at helping raise achievement for students at risk of academic failure.

Although applicants were made aware of the need for matching funds in the guidelines for the program, released in March, the winners weren’t announced until early August, giving them only about five weeks to obtain the necessary cash.

Some groups had been hoping for a boost from foundations on a registry touted by the Education Department as pointing applicants to resources that could help in securing the matching funds. But, in many cases, organizations were told by philanthropies that the goals, audience, or geographic focus for their ideas didn’t match a particular foundation’s priorities.

That surprised some of the winners, who had been optimistic that the foundations would work together to ensure that all the highest-scoring programs received their matching funds. “I thought they were going to be coordinating with each other,” said Mr. Slavin, with foundations agreeing among themselves to cover the programs that met their priorities.

Chris Williams, a spokesman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of a dozen foundations that helped set up the registry, said it was “premature” to discuss the matchmaking process before the deadline.

But a list of frequently asked questions on the website of the foundation registry makes it clear that organizations that register shouldn’t necessarily expect to receive a grant from one of the participating foundations.

For its part, the Education Department has been trying to help applicants meet the matching requirement, including holding regular calls with applicants and funders to ensure that “everyone is receiving the support they need,” said Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the department.

But if some high-scoring applicants haven’t secured the necessary funding by the Sept. 8 deadline, the department will consider “legally permissible” options, she said, although she did not elaborate.

Steep Hurdles

Winners of the innovation grants were chosen by a team of more than 300 peer reviewers. Organizations that qualified for the largest grants—such as Success for All—had to meet stringent research requirements.

But in many cases, foundations have been reluctant to shift their focus to align with the goals of the winners.

That’s 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 has 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.”

Some big names in education philanthropy are sitting out the Investing in Innovation matching process.

“We have been unable to readily identify potential new grantees that represented a strong fit with our current strategy and investment criteria,” Erica S. Lepping, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, said in an e-mail. Some of the winners already receive Broad money for other purposes.

For the Boston-based Jessie B. Cox Trust, deciding against funding winners of the grants was a matter of both priorities and geography. The foundation focuses on out-of-school time and early learning in New England, said Chaletta Huertas, a program officer for the Cox Trust.

“We signed up to be contacted if a nonprofit organization was chosen as a top finalist for the i3 funding because we are interested in leveraging federal dollars,” Ms. Huertas said. “But none of the groups that were in the top finalists seemed to be good fits with the priorities of the trust.”

Restrictive foundation criteria have made life difficult for grantees seeking matching funds for targeted programs.

Sue Stepleton, the president and chief executive officer of the Parents as Teachers National Center, which is slated to receive $14 million to expand a home-visiting program for Native American families to improve early-childhood outcomes, said she initially expected that most of her funding would come from philanthropies on the registry. But when she surveyed the list, she said she found fewer than a dozen that worked with organizations such as hers.

“If a foundation was set up and chartered to fund leadership development, there’s no way they’re going to fund little kids on Native American reservations,” she said. As of Sept. 1, Parents as Teachers was about halfway to securing a 20 percent match for its “validation” grant, a category reserved for groups that have at least some research to back up their approaches.

Jerry D’Agostino, a professor of education at Ohio State University, which, like Success for All, is in line for a scale-up grant of nearly $46 million to finance a reading program, said he and five other staff members have spent the past five weeks doing nothing but working to secure the matching funds.

“We believe we have the match, but it has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. And securing it wasn’t easy, he said. “We contacted every funder on the [registry] list and found that some of them just weren’t interested.”

Varied Resources

But other groups were able to use the registry to great effect.

For instance, 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.

“It was not hard for us,” said Ms. Cincore-Templeton, whose program, Advancement Through Opportunity and Knowledge, is a collaboration by the nonprofit organization and the Pomona and Montebello Unified School Districts in California. “It’s been a good experience.”

Other groups used the registry for part of their funding, but filled in the gaps using money already in their coffers, which is allowable under program guidelines.

For instance, the Niswonger Foundation of Greenville, Tenn., got about half its match from grants provided by Gates and J.P. Morgan. But it will use existing private funds to match the remainder of its nearly $18 million validation grant, which will pay for a program aimed at giving rural students more opportunities to complete college coursework.

Some organizations were lucky enough to have their matches in hand when they applied.

For instance, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools, which is implementing a program aimed at improving high school retention and graduation rates, already had the $6 million necessary to match its $30 million grant before it submitted the application. The match came from the Pepsico Foundation.

And other groups were able to tap existing funders for more support.

Teach For America, based in New York City, received a $50 million scale-up grant to roughly double the size of its 7,300-member teaching corps by 2015, and secured much of its $10 million match in large part through an $8.5 million grant from the Rainwater Charitable Foundation, based in Fort Worth, Texas.

The KIPP Foundation, which received a $50 million grant to significantly expand its network of charter schools and share leadership lessons with administrators outside its network, has used the innovation-grant match as an opportunity to seek out new funders.

“We haven’t just been pursuing the regular cast of characters,” said Steve Mancini, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based organization. The nonprofit has commitments for $7 million of the $10 million it needs to match its grant, Mr. Mancini said. And the organization is confident it will have the rest of the money in hand by the deadline.

The process hasn’t been easy, though, even for KIPP, an organization with national name recognition that is accustomed to working with the foundation community. One wrinkle Mr. Mancini and others cited: Many foundation officials take vacation in August.

“We had to work hard,” Mr. Mancini said. “It wasn’t just thrown in our laps.”

Still, Mr. Mancini sees a silver lining in the tight timeline: “The deadline pushes foundations to make decisions.”

And other winners say the matching requirement has connected them with new funders they hope can 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 will 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.”

Even organizations that are still struggling to find funding report that having the federal seal of approval has been a major boon.

“I think the simple fact of appearing on the list is a huge stamp of credibility,” said Ms. Stepleton of Parents as Teachers. Under normal circumstances, “we would be making really elaborate, detailed arguments” about areas such as the program’s research base. But now, she said, “organizations assume we’re credible.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2010 edition of Education Week as Some i3 Winners Still Scrambling for Grant Match


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