Federal eduction spending could rise 6 percent in 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Wednesday, and that’s good news for New Haven’s eduction reform plans.

Though national spending overall will be frozen, Duncan said if the proposed 2011 White House budget passes, federal funds for education will increase — a move that comes as New Haven kicks its education reform efforts into high gear. Just last week, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. discussed two major federal grants the city may qualify for, Investing in Innovation and Race to the Top, at a meeting about education with Duncan and eight other mayors in Washington.

At a time when New Haven is facing a budget deficit of about $7.5 million, the city is looking to the federal government for funds to support education reform. But before New Haven receives any federal funds, it must overcome a number of bureaucratic hurdles.

Since the New Haven teachers’ union ratified a ground-breaking new contract in October, DeStefano said he is hopeful the city will receive federal funds to support education reform. Garth Harries ’95, an assistant superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, said he is optimistic about New Haven’s chances.

“[I have] every reason to believe we in New Haven are going to attract support,” Harries said.

Still, the grants are highly competitive, and it remains to be seen how big a piece of the pie New Haven will receive. And even though New Haven’s reform efforts make it a competitive applicant, grants like Race to the Top award funds to the state, which then distributes them to school districts. That means if Connecticut fails to win funding, New Haven could lose out on about $10 million.

Of the grants New Haven hopes to receive, two — Investing in Innovation and Race to the Top — are for education specifically, and neither is a sure thing.

In October, DeStefano said he had concerns about the city’s prospects for receiving funds from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act programs, Race to the Top Fund and the Investing in Innovation Fund. The Investing in Innovation Fund grants are also known as ‘i3’ grants. The federal government will award the $4 billion Race to the Top funds to the states in two rounds. The states will then distribute the funds to participating school districts. The $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund grants will be awarded to individual school districts and non-profit organizations that work with school districts and groups of schools, according to the i3 Web site.

For New Haven to receive i3 funds federal law has to change, DeStefano said, because New Haven and other Connecticut school districts did not meet the No Child Left Behind standards for student progress for two consecutive years, Harries said. But, that requirement has been removed, said Sandra Abrevaya, a spokesman for the Department of Education, increasing New Haven’s chances of receiving the funding.

But New Haven may be out of the running, at least in the first round, for Race to the Top funds.

In a September report, the Department of Education’s inspector general said he was concerned Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were not using federal stimulus money properly when funding education. That put those states at a competitive disadvantage for Race to the Top grants, Harries said in October. But he added that “there are lots of competitive criteria,” and Connecticut still applied for the first round of funding.

Thomas Murphy, the Connecticut State Department of Education spokesman, said the state is aware that competition for Race to the Top grants is “stiff,” and only 12 to 15 states will receive first round funds. But he said Connecticut is “ahead of the game” for the second round because it completed a first round application. And last week, President Barack Obama announced that $1.35 billion was added to the program in the 2011 budget, which could go directly to school districts.

If Connecticut receives Race to the Top Funds, New Haven will have to participate in the state’s Race to the Top reform plan, which includes developing partnerships between colleges and high schools, Harries said. He added that the city will also be able to withdraw from the program until it begins to use federal money.

The city could get a substantial amount of federal money — about $10 million over the course of four years at minimum from Race to the Top, Harries said. But Harries explained that the first round is highly competitive and Connecticut is not on the federal government’s “short list” of states to receive funding. The Department of Education will announce the first round of Race to the Top recipients in April, according to the department’s Web site.

If Connecticut does not receive first round Race to the Top funding, Harries said it will apply for second-round funding. The second-round application is due June 1.

Even if New Haven does not receive federal dollars, education reform will proceed.

“Obviously new things take additional resources,” Harries said. But he added that even if the city does not receive federal funding, reform will proceed. Some school reform initiatives do not necessarily require an increase in funding, just a change in the way the school district does things, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga wrote in an e-mail message. She explained that school reform does not have a “single dollar amount attached to it.”

New Haven has yet to finalize how it will finance reform, and it remains to be seen whether the Elm City’s reform effort will succeed.