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U.S. Senate Spending Panel Zeroes Out Race to the Top Proposal

The Obama administration's splashiest new K-12 initiative—a new iteration of the Race to the Top program aimed at bolstering educational equity—was rejected by Senate Democrats under a spending bill for fiscal year 2015 approved by a spending subcommittee Tuesday. 

The program, which was floated in the administration's most recent budget request, would have offered grants to states and districts to help close the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their more advantaged peers, including by ensuring that students in high-poverty schools have access to as many effective teachers as other students. 

The budget process is far from finished, so this isn't the final nail in Race to the Top proposal's coffin. But the Senate Democrats' rejection is a really bad sign for the fans of the equity program. It seems even less likely to find support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The lawmakers' move isn't a total surprise—members on both sides of the aisle have grown increasingly skeptical of the Obama administration's competitive-grant programs, and this is a very tight budget year. 

Another prominent Obama priority fared better in the subcommittee: Money to help states bolster their preschool programs would see a second year of financing, and even get a $100 million increase. That federal program, known as Preschool Development Grants, was first financed at $250 million under Congress' spending bill for fiscal year 2014, which started on Oct. 1 of last year. Congress did something a little unusual when it decided to provide money for the program—it funded Preschool Development Grants under the Race to the Top line item. But the proposal looks different from previous rounds of the competitive-grant program aimed at early-childhood education. More here

But the Senate Appropriations subcommittee refused to make room for another Obama priority in the administration's fiscal year 2015 budget request—$200 million to provide professional development for teachers in how to use technology.

And it voted to level-fund several of the administration's other favorite competitive-grant efforts. They include the $56.8 million Promise Neighborhood program, which helps schools pair education with wraparound services; the $141.6 million Investing in Innovation grant program, which helps scale up promising practices at the district level; and the $505.8 School Improvement Grant program, which helps turn around low-performing schools. The Obama administration had sought significant increases for both Promise Neighborhoods and i3. The spending bill also would finance the Teacher Incentive Fund at $230 million, which will provide for existing grants, but wouldn't make room for any new ones. 

On the other hand, other early-childhood education programs and big formula-grant programs that go out to almost every school district were big winners. Title I grants for disadvantaged students would see a slight increase of $50 million to $14.4 billion. And state grants for special education would be increased by $40 million, bringing them to roughly $11.5 billion. Head Start also would see a big boost of $145 million, to $8.7 billion. And the Child Care and Development Block Grant program would get $100 million in new money, bringing it to nearly $2.5 billion. 

"This bill reflects many hard choices, to be sure, but I am proud of the priorities we are promising here," said U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate panel that oversees education spending. 

Overall, the U.S. Department of Education would see a slight increase, to about $67.53 billion, from about $67.3 billion in fiscal year 2014. 

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