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District-State Tension an Issue in Race to the Top

As states scramble to get their Race to the Top Fund applications in before the Jan. 19 deadline, it looks like there's tension—or at least questions—emerging concerning those Memorandums of Understanding that districts are supposed to sign off on to show that they're planning to participate in the Race to the Top.

Folks at two organizations that advocate for districts, the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators, tell me they've been fielding lots of questions on this issue. It sounds like in some places district officials aren't clear on whether the MOUs are supposed to be binding or not, meaning they're not sure if they have to follow through if a state gets selected for a grant.

It's in a state's best interest to get as many districts as possible to sign on to its Race to the Top bid. It helps the state rack up points in the economic-stimulus grant competition.

But some districts, at least in Michigan, are mulling whether they should sign on to the state's bid, especially since some say they're not clear on the state's plan and what they'd be agreeing to. This has also come up in California, where some districts have joined the effort reluctantly, according to local reports. The picture is mixed in Louisiana, where some districts have embraced the plan, but the state school boards association has its doubts.

The teacher union issues are very much at play here, as some of these questions have run right into collective bargaining agreements. Check out my colleague Steve Sawchuk's excellent story.

And don't expect this tension to go away any time soon. Folks who want to see a major push for education reform from Race to the Top are hoping states that get the grants will make sure districts follow through.

"Whether or not this gets implemented at the local level is going to be dependent on the MOUs," said Charles Barone, the director of federal relations for Democrats for Education Reform. "There's a lot of room for slippage there."

District folks: Is this an issue in your state? How is your state handling the memorandum of understanding? Do you feel like you had input into your state's plan and are clear on what it is?
Let us know!

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