California Throws a Hail Mary Pass for U.S. Education Money

California's first application in the contest for money for school improvement under President Obama's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program was all but laughed out of Washington. The state was ranked 27th out of 41 states that applied, and didn't receive a dime even after the state legislature tweaked laws and Gov. Schwarzenegger put what little political capital he still has behind the effort. Federal reviewers of California's application were withering in their assessment -- finding that the state shouldn't receive funds because teachers' unions oppose the president's demands for higher standards and because education officials seem incapable of overseeing school money.

In the face of that rejection, it seemed likely that California wouldn't even bother to resubmit an application for a second round of "Race to the Top" money. But this morning came news that at least one Californian -- Schwarzenegger -- hasn't given up. His education secretary, Bonnie Reiss, who is also one of the governor's closest friends, has submitted a scaled-down application that focuses on improvement in three large urban school districts: L.A. Unified, Long Beach and Fresno.

It's not a bad idea; California can argue that it can keep a closer eye on "Race to the Top" moneys if they go only to a handful of places. But the state remains a longshot to receive funds. Union skepticism of Obama's education policies is strong all three of those big districts. And L.A. Unified is famous for bureacratic bloat and fiscal mismanagement.

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