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Snapshots from Stakeholder Fest, 2010

The U.S. Department of Education held an edu-stakeholders meeting on Friday afternoon to chat about everything from early-childhood programs to Race to the Top. (Politics K-12 sits through these things so you can spend your Fridays at happy hour.)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan kicked off the forum, saying the department is hoping to get about $300 million from Congress for a new early childhood education initiative. President Obama talked about early childhood education a lot on the campaign trail, saying he'd like to provide an additional $10 billion a year for the programs, but that money hasn't materialized. And the department's stab at a Race to the Top for preschool, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, was jettisoned from a bill aimed at making major changes to the student loan industry.

The Senate Appropriations Committee included $300 million for early childhood in its fiscal year 2011 spending bill, which awaiting action when Congress returns after the midterm elections. We have no idea whether the House included the same sum, because its bill is a big secret for absolutely no good reason.

Rob Mahaffey, from the Rural School and Community Trust, which wants to see big changes to the Title I formula it says would ensure that poor rural schools get their fair share of funding, asked whether a Title I revamp is on the table in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

This sounds like an esoteric issue, but revamping the formula would surely spark some very territorial fights in Congress. It's a tough, tough thing to do.

Duncan was pretty non-committal on the issue. He said the formula is "absolutely being looked at" by the department's ESEA team. Which means they probably haven't decided what they want to do yet, but they're not ruling anything out.

The secretary also announced that the department will be turning its attention to encouraging school districts to develop labor-management agreements that advance education redesign goals, while keeping the cooperation of teachers.

It sounds like an uphill battle, but Duncan pointed out that a year ago no one would have thought that 40ish states would have endorsed the Common Core State Standards Initiative. (Fair analogy? Maybe. We'll have to see how the Common Core standards play out once they move into that tricky implementation phase.)

But Duncan said that he doesn't expect to see additional aid to school districts to avert layoffs. Everyone pretty much knew that, and the question becomes how cash-strapped school districts will cope as they wait for the economy to recover.

Judy Wurtzel, a deputy assistant secretary, talked up the department's efforts to provide Race to the Top technical assistance. She explained that ICF International got a $43 million, four-year contract to help with that technical assistance. Federal contracting geeks out there should know that that ICF isn't working alone. It will be collaborating with Cross & Joftus, Alvarez and Marsal, Education Northwest, Learning Point Associates, McREL, Miko Group, and SEDL.

And apparently there is a pay-for-performance element at work here. The contractor can earn up to another $5 million if the department is happy with its role in boosting student outcomes, state implementation of RTT plans, and the quality of service.

ICF and its posse will help identify winning state's needs, both individually and as a group, and share lessons learned. And Wurtzel said the department is aiming to create a website where states can share lots of things they've created for Race to the Top. The materials would be available to all states, not just the lucky dozen winners.

Finally, Brad Jupp, the department's teacher guru, talked up teach.gov, the new multi-media platform aimed at teacher recruitment. It's his dream for education majors to be able to use the site to find open jobs and email their applications from anywhere, including, say the beach during spring break week.

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