Marty Strange Briefs U.S. Senate on i3, Title I

Last Updated: January 24, 2011

This article appeared in the January 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Staff representing more than 30 Senate offices and key committees were present on January 24th to hear Rural Trust Policy Director Marty Strange discuss the impact of the federal Investing in Innovation (i3) program on rural schools.

The bi-partisan briefing coincided with the release of “Taking Advantage: The Rural Competitive Preference in the Investing in Innovation Program,” an analysis by the Rural Trust.

In order to encourage proposals with a focus on rural education, the i3 competitive grant program offered two bonus points in the scoring system for “projects that would implement innovative practices… designed to focus on the unique challenges of high-need students in schools within a rural [school district]…” Nineteen of 49 funded projects received at least one bonus “rural preference” point.

But as Strange reported to Senate members and staff, most of the innovations did not originate in rural schools and have had little or no prior use in rural schools. Instead, most of the projects were designed for and will be implemented in urban schools with only enough rural participation to justify claiming the rural points. Only three proposals met the “Taking Advantage” analysis as authentically rural.

"We don't question the value of the projects that received funding," Strange emphasized. "We do question the extent to which they will make a difference in rural education, and we question the effectiveness of the bonus points in encouraging genuinely rural proposals.

See RPM, “RT Report: Few i3 “Rural” Grants Generating Rural Innovation” for more coverage of “Taking Advantage.” Read the full “Taking Advantage” report presented to the Senate here, or read the Citizen Action version, with data summaries and background information, here.

Strange also presented information on the Title I program, which provides less federal funding for very low-income students in smaller districts than in larger districts, including larger districts with low percentages of students living in poverty. Title I, like i3, is not serving high-need rural students and their schools in an equitable manner.

Participants responded to the briefing with a range of questions, many focused on whether the Rural Trust would be able to have any influence on the U.S. Education Department's future direction of the i3 program. "We hope so," said Strange.

Robert Mahaffey, Rural Trust Communications Director, noted the strong and diverse Senate interest. "To have such great participation from Senate staffers, especially on the day before such a major event as the State of teh Union is a sign that the rural issues in i3 and inequities in the Title I formulas are attracting a broad Congressional audience." 

The briefing, hosted by the Senate Rural Caucus, concluded with a spontaneous round of applause.

To learn more about fairness for rural students in Title 1, go to Formula Fairness Campaign.

Read coverage of the briefing, including remarks from James H. Shelton, Assistant Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, in Education Week.

Read more from the January 2011 Rural Policy Matters.