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The Department's Budget 'Plan B'

As we've already reported, the U.S. Department of Education put out a bold new budget proposal last week that includes major program consolidations and sketches out the preliminary details of the administration's plan to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

That reauthorization would have to pass this year for many of the budget proposals to become reality. Many folks think that's a long shot. And it appears that the department is at least preparing for the possibility that the bill won't make it to prime time this year.

Buried in the mega-thick budget document is the administration's budget contingency plan, in case there's no reauthorization. (For the full proposal go here, then click on the link that says Fiscal Year 2011 Education Budget Summary and Background Information. The chart is on page 33.)

The headline? The contingency request seeks $900 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund, more than double the $400 million the program received in fiscal year 2010. That's about the same level as the $950 million Teacher and Leader Innovation Fund, which is one of the new funding streams proposed in the department's budget.

But last year, folks in Congress were skeptical about the TIF's effectiveness when the administration was seeking to bring it to $487 million. This bigger proposed hike is likely to prompt even more probing.

And the administration's plan to revamp teacher and leader quality is evident in other requests, not dependent on a reauthorization of ESEA, such as $50 million for a new teacher recruitment initiative and $79.2 million for school leadership programs, a $50 million hike over fiscal year 2011.

The request also seeks $310 million for charter schools, a $54 million increase over fiscal year 2011.

The administration is also asking for $1.35 billion to continue the $4 billion Race to the Top competition beyond this year and open it up to districts. And it's asking for $500 million to continue the Investing in Innovation Fund, which scales up promising practices in districts.

Both the RTTT and i3 requests are also part of the traditional, non-contingency budget, although Andy Smarick points out here it's tough to tell if the grants for those programs are working ... since none have actually been given out yet.

The administration is also asking for $900 million for School Improvement Grants, and $210 million for the Promise Neighborhood initiative, which supports education programs that are bolstered by a range of other services, such as prekindergarten and health. Both of those requests are part of the regular budget blueprint, too.

The consolidations being proposed may be a long shot. What do you think of the prospects for Budget Plan B?

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