Baucus, Tester press Education Secretary for transparency in grant program

Senators Urge Nation’s Top Education Administrator to Explain Grant Process

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester pushed the Department of Education and the Obama Administration to stop funding future Investing in Innovation “i3” Grants until questions over the award process are answered. In a letter (attached) to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Baucus and Tester expressed their concern Montana schools and rural school districts were unable to adequately compete for these funds which go to schools that can demonstrate improvement in student achievement.

“I’m fighting for fairness for Montana schools and transparency in how these grants were awarded. I don’t think it is right for taxpayers’ dollars to go into a program that unfairly leaves our smaller school districts out of the process,” said Baucus.

“My job is to make sure Montana and rural America is not forgotten or overlooked when it comes to our nation’s education policy,” said Tester, a former school teacher.  “Our students work hard and deserve the same access to a quality education and resources, regardless of whether they live in a big city on the east coast or in a small community in Montana, and that’s why it is so important that funding opportunities are equally available to all schools.”
The i3 grants required schools to provide cost estimates for serving student enrollment above 100,000. However, student enrollment for the entire state of Montana is approximately 140,000, making it difficult for Montana’s applicants to compete with urban areas. After Baucus, Tester and their colleagues raised concerns to Secretary Duncan over rural districts’ inability to successfully compete for competitive funding, Secretary Duncan responded that the Department would include additional points to offset this disadvantage for rural schools.  However, only twenty-five percent of development grant awardees received rural preference points. No Montana schools were awarded i3 funding.


February 26, 2010
-Baucus wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan pressing the Education Department to treat rural school districts fairly in the Invest in Innovation Grant program.

April 12, 2010
-Duncan responded saying the Department would recognize the unique challenges of high-need students in rural school district.

2010 Grant Process
-Three grants levels require schools to demonstrate cost estimates to reach 100,000, 250,000 and 500,000 students. This requirement effectively shuts out rural schools from the process.

December 16, 2010
-Baucus, Tester  write a letter urging the Department of Education and the Obama Administration to stop further funding of the grant program until the process for awarding grants is publicly disclosed. The letter also urges the Department to brief Congressional staff on the i3 award process.