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Same As It Ever Was: Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), Student Support Services (SSS), TRIO, and More to Come

November 8th, 2009 · by Isaac Seliger · 2 Comments

(EDIT: Note that the i3 RFP discussed below has finally been released, as discussed at the link.)

As grant writers, we usually don’t pay much attention to new grant programs as they move through the regulation writing process, since we are focused on writing proposals, not the policy minutia of federal regs. A caller last week, however, got me to look at the birthing of the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3), and I fell in love with this cute little grant puppy, eyes closed and all.

I immediately liked the fact that a lower case “i” is used in the name, which leads me to believe that perhaps archey the cockroach of archey and mehitabel fame, who jumped from the top of a typewriter to write his stories and couldn’t use the shift key, was involved in the development of the program. Part of the almost already forgotten American Recovery and Relief Act (ARRA, or otherwise known as the Stimulus Bill), i3 will offer up $650 million to “start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.” This is music to a grant writer’s ears because we could make just about any education project concept work for this nebulous description. Even better, both Local Education Agencies (“LEAs” = school districts in FedSpeak) and nonprofits are eligible.

This is just the latest in a long series of Department of Education grant programs that purport to do more or less the same thing, with few discernible results. i3 projects are supposed to:

  • improve K-12 achievement and close achievement gaps;
  • decrease dropout rates;
  • increase high school graduation rates; and
  • improve teacher and school leader effectiveness.

If there are any “research-based” strategies to accomplish any of the above, let me know, because in 38 years of writing endless Department of Education proposals, I’m not aware of them. If you think I am just a cynical grizzled grant writer, take a gander at the first four of the eight goals for the definitely forgotten Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which was passed in 1994 with much folderol:

By the Year 2000 -

  • All children in America will start school ready to learn.
  • The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
  • All students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics an government, economics, the arts, history, and geography, and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our nation’s modern economy.
  • United States students will be first in the world in mathematics and science achievement.

While Goals 2000 didn’t achieve any of its goals, or much of anything else in the real world for that matter, we wrote lots of funded Goals 2000 proposals and look forward to a target rich environment when the i3 RFP is published this winter. Perhaps archey should have named this effort “goals2010imeangoals2020imeandgoals2030″ instead, or for that matter, g2. Attention school district and education-oriented nonprofits: as the Captain of the U-Boot in Das Boot said, “Good Hunting.”

While Secretary Duncan announced i3, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchell in a “Free Man in Paris” the rest of the Department of Education “grantmaker machinery behind the popular program” continues to rumble on. A case in point is the Student Support Services (SSS) program, for which a RFP was recently issued with a due date of December 14. There is $268 million available for SSS, but no fanfare from Secretary Duncan.

Why? It’s simple–nobody pays attention to the old dog when a new puppy appears. SSS is one of the seven “TRIO” programs that fund various initiatives to “assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.” We’ve written lots of funded TRIO grants over the years. Some TRIO programs, like SSS, are aimed at college students, while others, like Talent Search and Upward Bound, focus on middle and high school students. Hmmm, methinks I could write an i3 proposal that mimics a TRIO proposal without the Department of Education figuring it out.

The reason that SSS causes little excitement, despite the enormous amount of money available, is that it’s been around since the Johnson administration! Everyone is rushing around to pat the i3 puppy on the head, while the old dog SSS barely gets noticed. At Seliger + Associates, however, we love all Department of Education dogs equally and are carefully grooming proposals for our SSS clients while we wait for i3 to be whelped.

I could go on with other Department of Education programs that have more or less the same purpose as i3 (e.g., Title I, Title III, No Child Left Behind, Smaller Learning Communities, Partnership Academies), but you get the idea. Regardless of the likely failure of this latest education reform effort, i3 is another great example of why this is such a wonderful time for grant writing, as I’ve been writing about in various blog posts since the Great Recession started a year ago. Given the various youth and other recession-based horror stories I cited recently in There’s Something Happening Here, But You Don’t Know What It Is, Do You Mr. Jones?, you can be assured that many more grant programs are gestating as I write this. The time to plan (or apply) is now, so that your public agency or nonprofit organization can swoop in. As the Talking Heads put it in “Once in a Lifetime”, for the Department of Education and other federal agencies, it’s “same as it ever was.”

Tags: Advice · Government · Grants · Stimulus