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Senate Proposes Money for Race to Top, i3, Early-Learning Fund

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee just released its proposed omnibus spending bill for the federal government, which—if passed—would include some surprising boosts for the U.S. Department of Education. Among them:

The Early Learning Challenge Fund, which would get $300 million under the measure. The program, which many see as the last, best hope of getting new federal investment in early-childhood programs for a long time, would help states improve their pre-kindergarten and similar programs.

• The Investing in Innovation Grant program, which received one-time funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and would be extended in fiscal year 2011 to the tune of $240 million. That's not nearly as much as the $650 million it got under the economic-stimulus program, or the $500 million the administration wanted, but it's something—the program doesn't appear to get any funding under the House version of the measure.

Other increases included in the Senate's budget proposal:

• Race to the Top which would get $550 million for a second year of the program, the same as in the House version of the spending measure. But the program would not be extended to districts, as the administration had wanted, it would go only to states.

• Title I grants to districts, which would receive $14.8 billion, a $290 million increase over fiscal year 2010. Title I School Improvement Grants would be level-funded at around $546 million, the same as fiscal year 2010.

• Special education grants to states for educating students with disabilities, which would be financed at $11.8 billion, a $290 million increase over fiscal year 2010.

• Head Start, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, would receive $8.1 billion, an increase of $840 million over last year.

• Pell Grants, which help low-income students attend college, would get $25 billion, fixing a shortfall in the program and keeping the maximum Pell Grant at $5,550 in the 2011-12 school year.

The bill would allow grants made under the Education Department's 21st Century Community Learning Fund to finance extended learning programs such as a longer day or school year, not just after-school efforts. The program would also see a funding boost of $135 million, to a total of $1.3 billion. More on that here.
The House has already passed its own version of the fiscal year 2011 spending bill in the form of a continuing resolution, basically a giant extension funding most programs until next fall at the same level as this year. (There are some exceptions, such as the $550 million for Race to the Top.)

Some education groups have said they'd much rather see a real budget bill, like the one the Senate has proposed, because that would at least offer some increases for education programs.

The full Senate could begin consideration of the bill as early as tomorrow.

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