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Education Department's Post-Government-Shutdown To-Do List

Whenever you return to work after a two-week long break, you know what you're in for: an overflowing inbox, voice mails that are days old, and a long to-do list.

This was no vacation, but for federal Education Department employees, the return-to-work scenerio will be similar. And daunting.

There are some big things happening this month that await federal employees when they get back to to their desks, which could be any day now as a deal to end the partial federal government shutdown appears near. Here's a sampling:

Race to the Top for districts: Earlier this month was the deadline for districts to apply for the second round of the district competition, which drew more than 219 applicants vying for $120 million. The money must be awarded by the end of the calendar year, so the judging will have to begin in earnest.

Race to the Top for early learning: The deadline for states to apply for the latest round of early-learning grants, worth about $280 million, is still Wednesday (whether the government is open or not). Assuming a reopening soon, competition won't be much, if at all, behind schedule. But it's still tops on the department's to-do list.

Race to the Top penalty for Georgia: This month is a key time as the Education Department takes steps to withhold a small portion of Georgia's Race to the Top grant after the state decided not to implement a compensation-reform idea from its original application. In fact, today was to be the deadline for Georgia to petition federal officials and make the case they shouldn't lose their money. And indeed, Georgia did file its protest but an Education Department spokesman said officials have been unable to review it because of the shutdown. 

Waiver renewal data: As part of the waiver renewal process, the federal department promised to start delivering results from its informal data audit this month to states. This data analysis is supposed to make sure states' new accountability systems under their No Child Left Behind Act waivers are doing a good job identifying and intervening in the right schools. 

Waiver monitoring: In making decisions on whether to renew a state's waiver, federal officials have been conducting monitoring phone calls and site visits to check up on states' progress against the promises they made in their plans. Fall is a busy time for this monitoring.

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