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Duncan Offers a Sneak Peek at Obama's 2012 Budget

We'll have to wait until Monday to get the official numbers, but Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave reporters a sneak peek at some highlights of the president's fiscal year 2012 budget request.

He said that even though President Obama wants to freeze domestic discretionary spending, "all of us know that education is an extraordinarily important investment for the country."

To me, that's saying that education is likely to be a bright spot in an austere budget, like it was last year, maybe a modest increase for the department overall? Of course, Congress may not go for it.

Duncan also said that the administration will once again be asking for more money for Race to the Top in their request. I wouldn't be surprised if they also were seeking more for the Investing in Innovation Fund, but we'll have to wait until Monday to know for sure.

But there will be a twist to the program in the fiscal year 2012 request: It'll just be for districts. Not states.

This is going to be a very complicated budget year, because, even though we're now talking fiscal year 2012, Congress still hasn't finished the fiscal year 2011 budget. The federal government has been operating on a series of extensions, the latest of which expires on March 4. The Department asked for more money for Race to the Top last year, but it's still unclear if Congress is going to come through. (My guess is they won't, given all the Republican rhetoric on cutting down on spending.)

So, for those of you keeping score, if Congress gives the department more money for Race to the Top in 2011, that will go to states. But the fiscal year 2012 request, however much it is, will be for districts. Clear as mud?

Also, can you really call a pot of money for Race to the Top that's just for districts Race to the Top with a straight face? It would really be a very different program. Sort of Race to the Top: Locals Strike Back, the Sequel or something.

Other questions to keep in mind: How will the budget deal with the Pell Grant shortfall? And last year, the department proposed a big consolidation of a number of programs. Will they do that again this year? If I were a betting woman, I'd say probably yes. We'll know soon.

Also, education, particularly STEM, is going to get a lot of attention from the administration next week, starting with an Obama visit on Monday to Maryland's Parkville Middle School & Center of Technology, near Baltimore.

Meanwhile, the Republican House's fiscal year 2011 numbers could come out any day now. Expect big cuts!

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