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Brandywine Schools In Delaware Could Lose $2.5 Million In Federal Race To The Top Funds

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In a unique move, Delaware education officials have threatened to withhold $2.5 million in federal funding from a district for failing to provide its teachers with sufficient time dedicated to planning.

The state's Department of Education has placed the Brandywine School District on notice after officials discovered that the district was not properly implementing mandatory 90-minute "Professional Learning Communities" planning periods for high school teachers, The News Journal reports.

The district has until next school year to properly implement the program, or face losing its portion of the state's $119 million Race to The Top grant. The state has also offered to provide assistance for implementation.

This marks one of the few times any official threat has been made to pull RTTT funding at any level. In April, Delaware state officials threatened to withhold RTTT funds from the Christina School District for planning to backtrack on an RTTT pledge to school turnaround initiatives. By September, every state that had won RTTT funding had postponed its deadlines for implementing reforms, but none had faced sanctions for doing so.

One of the most egregious blunders is in Hawaii, which is struggling to implement the reform plans tied to its $75 million RTTT grant. Even after the state missed several key deadlines, the U.S. Department of Education has neither acted nor commented on the issue despite the agency's promise to hold states strictly to pledges they made in RTTT applications.

In October, Kate Walsh, president of the National Center for Teacher Quality, told Education Week that "something is wrong" if the Education Department doesn't pull Hawaii's RTTT funding for teacher-evaluation failures. Education experts are also pushing the Education Department to "make an example out of Hawaii for its lack of progress," EdWeek reports.

The agency has, however, hinted at upcoming announcements about sanctions for RTTT states that haven't delivered, though the exact date and provisions of such an announcement are unclear.

Friday, nine states won a collective $500 million in federal funding from the Early Learning Challenge. The challenge is the third part of the Education Department's RTTT challenge, which provided close to $4 billion in federal education funding last year. The third round, which received applications from 35 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, aims to encourage improved coordination, clearer learning standards and better access to early learning programs for low-income, high-need infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Yet as the Department continues to dole out resources for state reform initiatives, the tangible long-term effects and benefits of RTTT are unclear. In an August interview with education writer Alexander Russo, Class Warfare author Steven Brill notes the uncertainty in whether the program has made a large difference to the U.S. education system.

"I think it already has but not because all of the states or necessarily even most of the states are going to do what they promised," Brill told Russo. "It unleashed this nascent movement, this sort of pent-up demand for change."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece incorrectly indicated that this was the first time a district faced threats to RTTT funding for failing to meet RTTT application promises. Delaware's threatened sanctions against Christina schools preceded those against Brandywine.