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Will Obama Have to Approve Race to the Top Winners?

With the Race to the Top final rules set to come out today, the major media outlets (from the Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post) all covered the news with different flair.

What's interesting in the New York Times' piece by Sam Dillon is that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is the lead quote:

"Even after all the comments, the rules are as comprehensive and demanding as before, they haven't changed," said Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's chief of staff, in an interview. "We're seeking reforms, so we haven't backed off anything."

The fact that the White House chief of staff (surely a busy guy) is talking about the release of final regulations to a competitive grant program shows just how important Race to the Top is to the Obama administration. If you'll remember, President Obama appeared in July at the kick-off of the competition, when the proposed regulations were announced. And he appeared in Wisconsin last week to further drum up excitement in it. What's more, the President, himself, approved the data-firewall absolute, which potentially made big, Democratic states such as California and New York ineligible.

So, will Obama have a say in—or at least have to approve—who wins?

Race to the Top Director Joanne Weiss told me the scores from each application will be ranked in order, and funded in that order until the money runs out. Of course, she said, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will have the final say, but will have to make a strong case if he deviates from the rankings. (The winning and losing applications, and the scores, will be made public.)

So, when I had Duncan on the phone yesterday as I was reporting my story, I asked him if he would have to run the winners past Obama.

There were a couple beats of dead silence on the phone line.

Then a simple "No."

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