US Education Department picks 49 finalists to get piece of $650 million innovation fund

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 were chosen from nearly 1,700 applications to the Investment in Innovation program. They include one of the country's most successful charter school organizations, and a nonprofit group that trains top college students to teach in poor communities.

Finalists 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.

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.

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

Finalists were chosen by independent peer review panels. They include a charter school group called the KIPP Foundation, 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.


AP Reporter Dorie Turner contributed to this report from Atlanta.



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