Gov. Jared Polis launches $32.7 million fund to incubate ideas to improve student learning during the pandemic

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a May press conference.
Gov. Jared Polis, shown at a May pres conference on Sept. 9 launched the RISE Education fund to incubate innovative ideas to better Colorado education. (Helen Richardson / The Denver Post)

To continue the battle against fallout from COVID-19, Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday launched a $32.7 million grant program that seeks to create innovations that help the state’s most disadvantaged students.

In an interview with Chalkbeat, Polis said he hopes the Response, Innovation, and Student Equity Education Fund, known as RISE, will plant ideas that will leave Colorado in a better place during and after the pandemic. 

The state describes the competitive grant fund, which uses federal stimulus money from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, as an incubator of ideas that advance student learning, especially among those who have suffered deeply the economic, social, and health effects of the crisis

Polis also hopes RISE will foster new models of learning, ideas to better the educational experience of college students, and ways to strengthen the connections between high school, college, and careers. 

Polis said he wants the state to use the money to address long-standing inequities among student populations. 

“The ideas are going to be as creative as our state is,” Polis said

Earlier this year, Polis designated $510 million to Colorado school districts and $450 million to higher education, both from federal stimulus money. A formula determined how much each institution received.

He said the new grant allows the state to identify and address its greatest areas of need outside of the formula.

“We have this ability to direct the funding to the most impactful programs that will create the biggest positive change in terms of achievement,” Polis said.

Colorado Department of Higher Education Executive Director Angie Paccione said the goal of the fund is for colleges and universities to learn from the pandemic and improve higher education for future years.

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She said innovative ideas could identify operating efficiencies or create new uses for classroom space. She also wants schools to learn from remote instruction during the pandemic and create systems that help break barriers in teaching diverse and low-income students.

The hope is for schools to create sustainable practices, she said.

“Never let a crisis go to waste,” Paccione said. “And I think that is where this is coming from.”

Colorado Education Commissioner Katy Anthes encouraged school districts to learn from their experience.

“I encourage our districts to take advantage of this opportunity to use what we have learned so far in this pandemic to think creatively and innovatively about solutions to today’s challenges that could lead to lasting positive changes in our ability to support all students for years to come,” Anthes said.  

Individual grants will range from $250,000 to $4 million to school districts with high-need students, charter schools, and colleges and universities.

Priority will be given to applicants that serve rural communities, districts that are struggling academically, and those that seek to address academic gaps based on income, ethnicity, disability, or English-learner status.

The first round of RISE applications are due Oct. 17, with a second round due Dec. 19. Awardees will have until September 2022 to spend the money.

A Polis-appointed committee of parents, educators, students, education leaders, and community members will review the applications. Gary Community Investments President and CEO Mike Johnston will chair the committee, according to the news release.

Johnston said while the RISE fund seeks to help solve the inequalities that have been exacerbated because of COVID, the goal is to create new ways to address the underlying inequities that hold back underserved communities.

Gary Community Investments and Colorado’s Gates Family Foundation will also provide help and funds to applicants that may need assistance in filling out a grant proposal.

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