Senators Raise Concerns About Rural Districts in i3

Last Updated: December 22, 2010

This article appeared in the December 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

Earlier this month thirteen senators co-signed an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressing concern that rural states and districts were not able to compete successfully for Investing in Innovation (i3) grants.

The letter notes that although the i3 program made available two competitive preference points for applicants that worked in at least one rural district, the vast majority of students served by organizations receiving i3 grants are urban. It also noted that some applicants were awarded rural preference points based on little evidence that they were actually working with rural schools.

Further, the senators point out that i3 grants were awarded in three categories based, in part, on the numbers of students the program could potentially reach. Most rural districts were, of necessity, limited to applying in the “development” category, which required demonstrating the potential to reach 100,000 students, a number impossible for most small districts. The validation and scale-up categories required potential to reach even more students, 250,000 and 500,000 students respectively. The letter points out that despite the fact that the development category was the only option for most rural applicants, only 25% of grantees in the development category were awarded rural preference points.

The letter quotes the October issue of RPM, writing that “most successful applicants’ rural efforts are ‘either non-existent or merely an appendage designed to qualify the applicant for the two extra scoring points they could get if they included some rural component.’”

The letter concludes with a statement that the “administration of the i3 grants highlights the inherent challenges that rural states and districts face with national competitive-based grants” and it calls on Duncan to meet with Congress to review the i3 award process and to designate no more funds for i3 programs until the “Department can ensure that rural districts and states can adequately compete for the funds.”

The thirteen senators signing the letter include Max Baucus, Jeff Bingaman, Sherrod Brown, Kent Conrad, Tim Johnson, Patrick Leahy, Blanche Lincoln, Patty Murray, Ben Nelson, John D. Rockefeller IV, Bernie Sanders, Jon Tester, and Tom Udall.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Read more from the December 2010 Rural Policy Matters.