California and its districts have run into more than their share of trouble when trying to win—and keep—federal education grants.
The Race to the Top district competition—in which applications are due today, for most states— was designed, in part, for districts in California that have generally been left out of the winners' circle of big federal competitions.
But with the money practically within reach, big districts such as Los Angeles Unified (and their unions) are letting it slip away.
The district's teachers' union wouldn't sign onto its Race to the Top application—a signature that's required to compete—but that isn't stopping superintendent John Deasy from asking U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to consider the district's pitch anyway.
"It is simply wrong for the opposition of one organization ... to deny LAUSD the opportunity to [win] funding that would provide tremendous benefits to our students," he wrote in the Nov. 1 letter.
Politics K-12 prediction: This isn't going to fly. A union signature (if there is a union) is required per the federal regulations. There is no way around it, according to a federal department spokesman I spoke with the day before Deasy sent his letter. It's not like you get more points for having support, because the signature is required from the outset.
This isn't the first time someone in California has asked for special treatment, or run into trouble trying to get or keep a grant or other federal opportunity.
In February, the state asked for its own special No Child Left Behind Act waiver—one which would afford it all of the flexibility without having to abide by the strings. (That request hasn't gone anywhere so far.)
Last year, the state was virtually guaranteed part of a $200 million consolation prize from a third round of the Race to the Top state competition for those that narrowly missed winning the first time around. But California turned in an "incomplete" application after it refused to make some of the assurances that the department required.
Also last year, the state got its longitudinal data system grant revoked and had to return $6 million to the Education Department after Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill authorizing the spending of that federal grant.
The state, like some others, also had a lot of trouble getting its School Improvement Grant money.
And when the state actually managed to win an Early Learning Challenge grant, it was last in the winner's circle, and only got a small portion of its application funded.