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Virginia withdrawing from Race to the Top competition

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) confirmed Wednesday that the state is dropping out of the federal Race to the Top grant competition for school reform funding. Virginia had finished well behind other states and the District of Columbia in the first round of the competition and, absent further legislative action, was not expected to climb in the rankings. The District is reapplying and Maryland is applying for the first time in the second round, with a deadline Tuesday.

Race to the Top, a centerpiece of the Obama administration's education agenda, offers $4 billion in federal aid in exchange for state commitment to pursue innovation to improve low-performing schools and other aspects of public education. Delaware and Tennessee won in the first round.

McDonnell told reporters Wednesday that he will send a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlining Virginia's reasoning for pulling out of the competition. He said he could not agree to a requirement that states adopt a common set of academic standards, given how hard Virginia has worked on its own Standards of Learning, which were first adopted under former governor George Allen (R) in the 1990s, and were a precursor to the national standards movement.

"The problem is that the way they have structured this program to mandate that we adopt a common core of standards to replace the Standards of Learning is unacceptable. We can't go back. We've been working on this for 15 years. Our standards are much superior. They're well accepted. They're validated. All the education leaders have a comfort level with those. So, once again, a federal mandate to adopt a federal common core standard is just not something I can accept nor can most of the education leaders in Virginia nor can most of the legislators," McDonnell said.

McDonnell said he supports other Race to the Top goals, including the promotion of charter schools and merit-based pay for teachers, and that he was disappointed states have not been given more flexibility on the curriculum issue.

"We want to work with them and hopefully they will see the light and provide more flexibility in the future," he said.

-Nick Anderson and Rosalind S. Helderman

By Rosalind Helderman  |  May 26, 2010; 1:03 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell  
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