49 finalists for US education innovation dollars

ByDonna Gordon Blankinship

SEATTLE – The U.S. Education Department on Wednesday announced 49 finalists for a share of the $650 million it plans to give away to encourage innovation.

The finalists chosen from nearly 1,700 applications to the Investment in Innovation program have until Sept. 8 to find a 20 percent private match to secure the federal grant. A group of private foundations has set up a website to help the grantees find matching dollars.

The applications come from school districts and nonprofit organizations, as well as colleges and universities, across the country.

Grants of up to $50 million are being awarded for scaling up education programs with a chosen track record; grants of up to $30 million for growing a program with emerging evidence of success; and up to $5 million for development of promising ideas.

Finalists were chosen by independent peer review panels. They include the KIPP Foundation, one of the most successful national charter school organizations, to scale up its principal training program; and Teach for America, in partnership with school districts around the country, to increase the number of new teachers it recruits and trains.

In a news conference Wednesday, the head of the innovation program said he was thrilled with the number, quality and variety of the applications.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better diversity of solutions to a range of problems that will benefit the field broadly,” said Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement.

The 49 finalists designed their projects to take place in more than 45 states and Washington, D.C., affecting 250 communities.

Shelton said the department would do whatever it could to find money from other sources to pay for the projects that won’t get federal dollars this year, including organizing a summit for November where nonfinalists could take their ideas directly to nonprofits and others with dollars to invest.

The department has requested another $500 million for the program in fiscal 2011, and it is expected to be part of the reauthorization plan for the federal No Child Left Behind law.

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AP Reporter Dorie Turner contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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