Florida's Race to the Top application and the so-called side deals that districts and unions are entering into on their own—outside of the official application—are raising some eyebrows among education policy wonks. It's really unclear just how problematic these side deals might be to the spirit of the Race to the Top competition in Florida, but they sure do raise a lot of questions. Eduwonk, Sherman Dorn, State EdWatch, The Washington Post's Answer Sheet, and this blog have all explored the ramifications of these side deals.
Now, the U.S. Department of Education is weighing in late Friday on such deals. They would not talk about Florida, specifically, because of the ongoing competition, but my guess is some high-level conversations went on to discuss the matter. After all, the last thing the department wants is a bunch of copycat side deals across the country that threaten to complicate the second-round competition.
So, in general, department spokesman Justin Hamilton told me today, federal officials will be giving peer reviewers much more extensive training in reading, understanding, and scrutinizing any district MOUs that are submitted that are conditional on collective bargaining agreements. (Of course, this only helps if states are forthcoming, and if any side deals are actually included with the applications.) He said peer reviewers will only judge what's in a state's application, which is consistent with the rules and the first round.
Secondly, Hamilton repeated that any state that starts deviating from its submitted application, if it wins, will be in jeopardy of losing its award funding.
And lastly, he pointed out, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has the discretion to go against the peer reviewers recommendations and select the winners. Not that that's likely to happen, but Hamilton said that's another backstop in the process.