DOE Spends $103 Million More on ‘Investing in Innovation’ Competition

Published January 27, 2017

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) will grant $103 million to 15 organizations as part of its Investing in Innovation (i3) competition.

Organizations must obtain matching private-sector funds in order to receive the government grants.

“A signature program of the Obama Administration, i3 has galvanized educators across the country to develop, build out, and apply research on practices that address the most persistent challenges in education,” DOE’s website states. “The Department launched the first i3 competition in 2010 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Through the seven i3 grant competitions, the Department has received more than 5,000 i3 applications and, if this year’s potential grantees successfully secure their matching private sector funds, it will have funded 172 of them at more than $1.4 billion, in addition to more than $260 million in private sector funding.”

DOE announced in November 2016 the 15 projects in the final i3 cohort. In December 2016, DOE announced the launch of the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant competition for 2017. EIR is meant to “continue i3’s tiered-evidence approach to generating and building upon innovative, locally-driven practices that improve outcomes for students,” said DOE on its website.

Calls for Free-Market Forces

Michael Schaus, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, says free-market solutions would be much more effective than these government-mandated ones.

“Conspicuously absent from the DOE’s push for innovation is any call to introduce free-market forces into our underperforming education system,” Schaus said. “Rather than throwing even more taxpayer dollars at an increasingly underwhelming system, government should be removing the shackles it has placed on communities, educators, and public institutions. Injecting such free-market reforms into the system would create far more organic improvement than government grants of any amount. The current need for innovation in education is a symptom of government’s near-monopoly over the process. A little more government money certainly isn’t going to alter that reality.”

Calls for Elimination

Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation, says programs such as i3 have proven to be ineffective.

“Ironically, throwing taxpayer dollars at public schools in the name of innovation will simply reinforce the status quo,” Stoops said. “There’s little evidence that federal spending on programs does much to increase student achievement or really move the needle on improving public education. Keeping in mind that we have a $4 trillion federal budget, $103 million dollars is a relatively trivial amount. And the fact that it is part of a larger problem of out-of-control spending and massive budget deficit, it seems to me that if we’re looking to reduce the federal budget, eliminating these types of programs is a good way to do so.”

Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.