Can Race to the Top decisions really be politics-free?

Ohio has joined 39 other states and the District of Columbia in submitting its Race to the Top grant application to the Feds. The Buckeye State is seeking $409 million for ???????radical change in a compressed time.??????? Whether or not Ohio's plan is bold enough, and competes well against other states, is now awaiting the determination of reviewers at the U.S. Department of Education.

But in Ohio, many policy wonks and journalists believe that politics will surely intrude in the USDOE's decision making. This despite that fact that Secretary Duncan and the department have repeatedly insisted that politics will play no role in determining which states receive RttT grants.

Skeptics in Ohio point to last week's election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts and the struggles facing Democrats across the country and argue political calculations will rear their head in RttT grant determinations. Consider that this weekend Ohio newspapers ran headlines like ???????Ohio voters lean GOP once again??????? and ???????Strickland trails Kasich in race for governor, poll shows.???????

Ohio' RttT application plays up big-time Gov. Strickland's recently passed education reform plan in House Bill 1. Specifically, the application argues ???????Governor Strickland has strongly committed himself to H.B. 1, the most significant and comprehensive education reform in Ohio for decades and the cornerstone of the strategy reflected in our RttT application.???????

There is little doubt that in his re-election campaign Gov. Strickland will point to his education reform plan as a pivotal piece of legislation and one of the reasons he deserves another four years as governor.

Will the White House and the USDOE really say to a loyal Democratic governor in a major state facing a tough re-election that his signature policy reform isn't good enough for RttT funding? Imagine the political fodder an RttT rejection for Ohio would provide the Republican candidate John Kasich.

Is it cynical to think Rahm Emanuel and other political hawks in the White House would never let this happen or just plain common sense?

--Terry Ryan

Image courtesy of Matthias Kupfer at Wikimedia Commons.

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