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Budget Cheat Sheet: What to Watch

President Barack Obama is expected to release his fiscal year 2013 budget proposal on Monday. And even before the official release, we already know some of what will be in there.

Obama already has said he'll be seeking $1 billion for a version of his Race to the Top franchise, this time for higher education. He wants to double funding for college work-study programs, and to get $53 million for a "First in the World" fund to help colleges scale up promising practices. And he wants $80 million for a new science and math teacher initiative. There may also be a new competitive-grant program for teacher quality, but there aren't too many details right now of what it would look like and how it would differ from the existing Teacher Incentive Fund.

All told, that likely means a bigger bottom-line proposal for the U.S. Department of Education, since it's unlikely that Obama will cut programs to pay for those initiatives, said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition in Washington.

It's also a sure bet that the president again will include some of his ideas for K-12 policy in the budget. They're likely to include creating a fund to reward Title I schools that get good results, consolidating smaller programs in the U.S. Department of Education into bigger funding streams, and continuing to fund his favorite education redesign programs (Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation, Promise Neighborhoods).

So ... will he get any of that? For those keeping score, last year the president asked for a new version of Race to the Top, just for districts. That's coming to fruition.

But most of the rest of last year's propoals never made it to prime time. In fact, House Republicans cited Obama's proposal to consolidate some Education Department programs as a reason to eliminate them altogether. More than a dozen of those program, including the Even Start Family Literacy Program and Striving Readers, got the axe.

Congress is supposed to finish its spending bills by Sept. 30 each year—but almost never meets that deadline. Packer, a veteran lobbyist, is guessing lawmakers won't make the target this year, either. In fact, he's guessing the Education Department's budget won't be finalized until after the presidential election.

That means the fate of many of the president's propsosals could hinge on his re-election. If Obama wins another term, programs such as i3, Race to the Top, Promise Neighborhoods, and maybe even the School Improvements Grants, are much more likely to keep going.

And, once the presidential election is finished, lawmakers also will have to deal with another big budget issue, one that will be hanging over everyone's heads all year: What to do about the pending cuts to education—and just about every other federal program—that will kick in as of January 2013 if Congress doesn't act.

The planned cuts, known as "sequestration," were approved as part of a compromise in August to raise the debt ceiling. Sequestration would mean 9 percent, across-the-board cuts all around—which would be the biggest cut to education programs in recent history, Packer said.

"By far, the biggest threat is sequestration," he said.

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