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On Eve of Obama's Speech, Duncan Makes Policy Pitch

So tonight, some very lucky students in Kalamazoo, Michigan are going to have their commencement address delivered by none other than President Barack Obama.

And although I doubt Obama will talk much about union side deals and other education policy inside baseball, it's not surprising that the administration is using the hoopla surrounding the speech as an opportunity to tout its progress on major education redesign achievements - and to lay some groundwork for the administration's priorities as Congress begins to consider the fiscal year 2011 education spending bill.

Chief on that list? The competition for a slice of the $4 billion Race to the Top. In a conference call with reporters today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the program has sparked a spate of reform-ey state action, including some "very progressive labor-management agreements."

He said it was clear there was "pent up demand for change" and "couldn't be more proud of the work" that states have done or committed to do.

And he said that some states are very close to enacting the kind of reform plan the administration would like to see and might have a great shot at "Race to the Top Three." The Obama administration has sought $1.35 billion in additional funding from Congress for the program.

It's uncertain whether Congress will extend the program in its fiscal year 2011 spending bills, which could be marked up this summer. But I'd except to hear way more rhetoric from the administration on how the program can continue to make a difference, now that Round 2 applications are in and Congress must begin to decide its fate.

Duncan also touted the administration's efforts on school improvement using the SIG grants, which have recently received some congressional pushback. It also remains to be seen whether lawmakers will include the administration's full request for the School Improvement Grants, which they have sought to increase from $546 million in fiscal year 2011 to $900 million in fiscal year 2011.

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