Big News: Disconnected Youth Included in Next Round of Federal Innovation Grants

In a breakthrough Federal policy development for the youth reconnection field, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) last week announced priorities for 2017 innovation grants that include an emphasis on dropout recovery programs. The former Investing in Innovation (i3) program, renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grants by the Every Student Succeeds Act, supports “early phase” projects with grants for startup, scaling, and evaluation of between $700,000 and $800,000 each year.

The application is here, with a description of ED’s interest in disconnected youth under the final absolute priority (search for “absolute priority to reconnect disconnected youth”). The application specifically names re-engagement centers, Back on Track to College programs, and early warning systems as examples of the types of projects ED seeks to fund. The deadline to apply is April 13, 2017.

The EIR grants, like the predecessor i3 program, are focused on K-12 education and authorized as part of the main federal K-12 education bill. Thus, inclusion of disconnected youth is a coup for our field. It’s also a beachhead for future arguments that federal K-12 policy should more fully recognize the needs of younger disconnected youth.

The EIR priority continues a pivot, in President Obama’s final years in office, toward reengagement approaches, building on the Performance Partnership Pilot sites (third-round winners should be announced soon) and last spring’s Summer of Opportunity grant offer from the Department of Labor.

Given the strong bipartisan interest in i3-style competitive grant programs that organize awards by level of evidence – and Republicans’ stated interest in expanding i3 approaches to other areas of domestic policy – will 2017 hold more opportunities for programs serving disconnected youth to access federal funds?