Budget Debate: Preserving Innovation and Evidence in Education Funding

The following blog post was written by Lexi Barrett, Policy Director, America Forward.

In the coming weeks, Congress will consider final funding decisions for programs across the federal government. In a time of limited resources, members of Congress will weigh the merits of each program and decide which will stay, which will grow, and which will shrink or disappear. When making these critical decisions, Congress should take stock of which programs are truly delivering results and spurring innovation. One such program, the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, is unfortunately being contemplated for reduction or elimination. This program, along with the Social Innovation Fund, was in the spotlight on the Hill last week at America Forward’s briefing on the importance of innovation funds and investing in what works.

The i3 program is an evidence-based innovation fund that drives lasting impact in education by supporting the development and scale-up of successful innovations at the state and local levels. The program uses a tiered-evidence approach, which means that the more evidence of success a program has, the more funding it receives. This enables scaling of the most effective education interventions while also supporting innovative new ideas at lower levels of funding as evidence of success if being proven. In addition, the i3 program has generated private investments in the form of matching funds and in-kind donations. All programs that receive i3 funding are rigorously evaluated, ensuring that we continue to learn more about what works in education and what doesn’t, so that schools and their partners can continue to improve.

College Possible, an America Forward Coalition member, received an i3 grant to support innovative college access programming. In addition to scaling College Possible’s reach, the grant is supporting an evaluation of the impact of College Possible coaching on students’ motivation, persistence and resilience. Previous evaluations have shown that students served by College Possible are twice as likely to attend a four year institution and five times more likely to graduate than their peers.

Coalition member Citizen Schools has also received an i3 grant to recruit, train, and support thousands of volunteers to lead apprenticeships that build students’ skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). With this funding, Citizen Schools is honing a promising innovation with the potential to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who are prepared for careers in science and technology fields. The program is also enabling Citizen Schools to conduct its first randomized control trial (RCT) to better understand and study the outcomes of the initiative.

For America Forward’s Coalition of innovative, results-driven organizations, i3 is one of the few federal funding streams that directly help to grow and scale their impact. Unfortunately, the majority of education funding continues to flow through formulas based on inputs, rather than results achieved and that prioritize compliance to established practices, rather than spurring invention. There is tremendous appetite in the field for more federal funding to support innovation and results: College Possible was one of just 26 organizations selected out of 434 applicants in 2015. Instead of walking away from i3, Congress should view it as a model for how to leverage federal funding for impact.

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