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Budget raises school spending

President Barack Obama proposed a 2012 Department of Education budget Tuesday that would, if approved, significantly increase federal spending for public schools, and maintain the maximum Pell grant — the cornerstone financial-aid program — at $5,550 per college student.

Whether it will be possible to keep that Pell maximum remains uncertain, however, given that House Republicans have proposed cutting the maximum by about $845, or 15 percent, in their proposal to extend the current budget.

The administration’s education proposal asks for $77.4 billion. That includes $48.8 billion for the portion of the education budget that does not include Pell grants, or an increase of about 4 percent above the 2010 budget. Congress has not yet enacted the 2011 budget.

Among education programs that the administration was protecting was Race to the Top, the competitive grant program that the administration has made its centerpiece initiative. Last year the administration used the Race to the Top to channel $4 billion in economic stimulus money to states that had proposed bold school improvement plans.

The 2012 budget proposal includes $900 million for Race to the Top, which the administration says would be awarded this time not to states but to school districts. That would make it possible, for instance, to channel money to Houston or other districts in Texas that wanted to compete in the Race to the Top initiative but could not because their state declined to participate.

Europe likely to act to cut phone roaming costs

BARCELONA, Spain — The European telecommunications commissioner said Monday that she probably would seek new regulations to end the high charges Europeans face when using data services on smart phones outside their home countries.

Speaking here on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress, the industry’s largest convention, the commissioner, Neelie Kroes, said that limits on the fees operators charge each other for mobile data roaming, which were enacted in 2007, had failed to significantly lower costs to consumers.

Mobile data roaming involves uses like downloading e-mail or reading a newspaper on a phone, as opposed to simply making a voice telephone call.

Prices for mobile data roaming across European borders can reach 2.60 euros, or about $3.50, a downloaded megabyte, compared with an average of 5 cents a MB paid at home, Kroes said.

Upheaval opens exits in Tunisia

SEDOUIKECH, Tunisia — A dozen young men left this village of olive groves and whitewashed houses near the Mediterranean coast last week, bound for the Italian island of Lampedusa aboard an overcrowded fishing boat. They were part of a flotilla of would-be migrants that has created a humanitarian crisis and stirred a political furor in Italy.

But unlike the more than 5,000 Tunisians who have successfully reached Italy’s shores, this group’s trip ended in failure and death. On Monday, villagers buried one of the men, Walid Bayahia, who was killed when the fishing boat collided in the frigid waters with a Tunisian National Guard patrol vessel and sank, according to four of the villagers who survived.

“Four buried and two missing — it’s a disaster,” said Tarak Bahyoun, a house painter who attended the funeral.

The fall of Tunisia’s autocratic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on Jan. 14 brought euphoria and hope to this country of 10 million people. But the revolution, as Tunisians call it, also created a power vacuum. After battling protesters for weeks, the police, fearing retribution, fled their barracks.