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Sen. Dodd Likely to Decline Education Panel Chairmanship

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, is going to stick with the Senate Banking Committee, according to published reports. (Dodd denies there's been any decision yet).

Dodd, whose state sued the federal government over the No Child Left Behind law, had the chance to jump over to the education chairmanship when his close friend, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., passed away.

This means that the Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, the second ranking Democrat on the committee, has a chance to step in. Harkin would have to give up his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which deals with issues important to his state. Still, a number of education advocates have told me there's a very good chance he'll step into the education chairmanship.

If Harkin took the job, he'd have a lot of control over both policy and money for K-12 programs, since he already heads up the subcommittee on education spending. That's great news if you're a Harkin fan.

During his time on the committee, Harkin has been a champion for federal funding for school facilities and students in special education. He wasn't a huge supporter of the Obama administration's proposal to shift money from Title I grants for districts into the school improvement program. And at first, he seemed wary of the administration's proposal to boost the Teacher Incentive Fund. He supported it, but only after proposing changes to the program to require input from teachers.

If Harkin says no, next in line is Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who has been known for her leadership on labor issues.

UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Sen. Harkin said he "doesn't have a decision to make until Sen. Dodd makes his." Dodd is likely to make an official announcement today.

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