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Education Budget, Race to Top, i3 Extension Still Up in the Air

Are you waiting to find out whether Congress signs on for "Race to the Top: The Sequel" and an extension of the Investing in Innovation Fund? And whether the lame ducks will take advantage of their status to make a new federal investment in early learning?

Well, it looks like the Democratic-For-Now Congress is still sorting out its plans. As we've mentioned before, Congress has a couple of options to deal with the still-unfinished budget for fiscal year 2011, which actually started back on Oct. 1.

Right now, programs in the U.S. Department of Education (and pretty much the entire rest of the federal government) are getting funded through a Continuing Resolution, or CR, in Beltway-speak. The CR basically keeps everything at fiscal year 2010 levels, until lawmakers get their act together to pass a new spending plan.

Given the turmoil created by the election, the lame-duck Congress could pass a much longer, nine-month CR, essentially extending everything at fiscal 2010 levels until next October 2011. And apparently that's what the Obama administration wants.

It's unclear, though, what that will mean for priority education programs, including Race to the Top and i3. Neither of those were funded in the regular fiscal year 2010 budget (They were created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus, which was sort of its own special thing.) Technically, they wouldn't get funded in a CR, unless Congress made some sort of special arrangement. And it might—these are Obama priorities. Or it might not—there seems to be a lot of pushback on Capitol Hill toward competitive grant programs that create winners and losers.

Members could, instead, do a giant spending bill, an "omnibus," in Beltway-speak. An omnibus might extend those programs, plus provide money for the Early Learning Challenge Fund, a proposed new program to help states provide quality pre-school programs. But Race to the Top probably won't get the $1.35 billion President Obama asked for in his budget; it was slated for $675 million in the Senate measure, $800 million in the House bill.

It sounds like the two chambers are working in opposite directions.

"The Senate is working really hard on the omnibus. The House is working really hard on a full-year CR. Somehow those two paths will converge, but no one knows how yet," a congressional aide told me.

Interestingly, just as Congress is deciding the fate of these two programs, districts in at least two states that won a coveted slice of the $4 billion Race to the Top program are saying thanks-but-no-thanks to the money. My colleague, Sean Cavanagh, blogged about more than two dozen Ohio districts and charters are jumping ship, in part because they think implementing Race to the Top will cost them more than they will actually get from the feds.

And apparently the same thing is happening in Georgia, where at least one district backed out, although the state was able to find a replacement district. (Folks in Race to the Top states: Anywhere else you're seeing this?)

And, while this next item isn't budget-related, if you want to get a sense of what Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the likely Education-Chairman-To-Be, is thinking on K-12, check out this op-ed he wrote for the Washington Examiner.

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