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Senate Panel Approves Race to Top Renewal

The federal Race to the Top program would be renewed for another year under a spending bill approved today by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with education spending—but wouldn't receive nearly as much money as President Barack Obama has sought.

Under the measure, which passed by voice vote with Republicans audibly voting "no," the Obama administration's signature education reform initiative would get $675 million in fiscal 2011 for another round of grants. That's a lot less than the $1.35 billion the administration asked for, and even less than the $800 million provided by a measure approved earlier this month by the Senate subcommittee's House counterpart.

Still, it looks like the Race to the Top competition, which received $4.35 billion under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, may be on track to stick around for another year. That could be good news for states that officially didn't make the list of finalists today in the second round of the grant competition.

Also under the Senate language, districts would be allowed, for the first time, to compete alongside states for the funds.

Separately, the subcommittee rejected the administration's bid to consolidate a number of smaller programs in the U.S. Department of Education, in part because there hasn't yet been a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Some key programs were eliminated, however, including the $66.5 million Even Start family literacy program, and an $88 million program aimed at creating small learning communities within large schools, particularly at the post-secondary level. Instead, to help support high school redesign, the measure would double the administration's High School Graduation Initiative, which was was created last year and financed at $50 million.

Another key administration initiative, the Investing in Innovation Fund, which received $650 million under the recovery act, was also extended, albeit not at the level the administration wanted. The program, known as i3, would get $250 million under the bill, not as much as the $400 million the House subcommittee included; the president had wanted $500 million.

And the Teacher Incentive Fund, which helps districts create pay-for-performance programs, would get the same level as last year: $400 million.

Overall, the Education Department would receive $66.4 billion in fiscal 2011, compared with $67.4 billion in the president's request.

The administration had been hoping for a big increase for the School Improvement Grant program, which helps finance interventions in the lowest-performing schools. The program would be financed at $625 million. That would be an increase from fiscal year 2010, when the program got $546 million, but not nearly as much as the $900 million the administration is seeking.

There was some encouraging news for supporters of prekindergarten programs: The bill would include $300 million for a new Early Learning Challenge Fund to encourage states to improve their early-childhood education. Democratic leaders tried to get a much bigger version of that program into a bill to overhaul the student loan program, but it was stripped out.

The two key formula grant programs would see modest hikes:

*Title I grants for districts would get $14.9 billion, a $450 million increase over fiscal year 2010 and the president's request.

*Special education state grants would be financed at $11.9 billion, a $420 million increase over fiscal year 2010, and $170 million more than the president wanted for for fiscal year 2011.

And in a policy shift, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program could be used to help schools increase learning time, either by extending the school day or the school year. The program had previously been centered primarily on after-school and summer programs. It would see a $100 million increase, bringing it to a total of $1.3 billion.

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