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Duncan Backs Delaware for Withholding District's RTTT Funds

In a warning to districts that want to backtrack on their Race to the Top promises, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is publicly supporting state officials in Delaware who plan to withhold $11 million from the Christina School District for reneging on school-turnaround plans.

Duncan's statement issued this evening marks the first time he's had to take sides as 12 states and their participating districts work to implement the $4 billion in Race to the Top awards.

"Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision," Duncan said.

Districts have certainly backed out of Race to the Top before, but in Christina's case, the district wants to change its plans for turning around two low-performing schools—and not move some teachers out as they had originally promised. But they still want to keep their money. These turnaround plans were part of the district's agreement, in exchange for Race to the Top prize money. Now, the school board president, John Young, says the dollars are creating more "chaos" than good. (It's important to note that districts volunteered to participate in Race to the Top.)

UPDATE [4/26]: And Young wasn't too happy about Duncan's involvement in the issue, according to this local news story.

State schools' chief Lillian M. Lowery put the responsibility for this back on the district: "The Christina School District developed its reform plan and sought federal/state financial assistance to make the plan a reality," she said. "The Christina School Board now seeks to back away from the very plan that resulted in the awarding of these funds."

This public squabble involves Delaware, a Race to the Top darling that was one of two winners in the first round. Duncan heaped generous amounts of praise on the state for its widespread buy-in from teachers, public officials, and community leaders. It's only a matter of time before other Race to the Top states confront issues like what Delaware is dealing with.

To be sure, implementing Race to the Top is messy business. There are many lofty promises to keep and grand expectations to meet. Duncan clearly wants to get out in front of this and let everyone know that he intends to support those, like Delaware, who are trying to turn their ambitious plans into reality. And his statement tonight also puts everyone on notice that he's willing to issue verbal "no-no"s when parties misbehave.

Here's the text of Duncan's entire statement:

Thanks to the commitment of states like Delaware, Race to the Top has helped drive unprecedented change in education across the country. Through the bold leadership of Governor Markell, Delaware State Education Association President Diane Donahue, and State Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery, Delaware is showing America what's possible when adults come together to do the right thing for kids. Reform isn't easy. Districts, like Christina, which signed on to the Race to the Top plan, made a commitment to dramatically improve the lives of children. Because Christina has backtracked on that commitment, the state of Delaware has made the tough but courageous decision to withhold Race to The Top funding. I believe that is the right decision. And I support the Governor's commitment to reform and his courage in challenging the status quo for children trapped in chronically underperforming schools. I hope that the Christina School Board will reconsider its decision.
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