Almost since the contest was announced,????those of us working in Ohio have????wondered whether Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Race to the Top decisions could really be politics-free. You don't have to be a????cynic to agree that in the Buckeye State (and likely other states), a battery of forces are paving the way for political horse-trading around RttT funding ???????? incumbent Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland is trailing Republican challenger John Kasich in the polls, the unemployment rate continues creeping upward, and commentators wonder if Ohio is heading for a budgetary ???????Day of Reckoning??????? the likes of what's happening in New Jersey.

And it hasn't helped that the USDOE has been cryptic about who the Race to the Top reviewers actually are and what they are actually looking for in their applications. Rick Hess's call for greater transparency during the review process and the kinds of questions he raises ???????? e.g. ???????What criteria were used to select reviewers? How committed is Sec. Duncan to abiding by reviewer recommendations???????? echoed even more loudly when a whopping 16 finalists were announced, including Ohio, New York, and Kentucky.

Enter in the recent wheeling and dealing to garner votes for the health care bill, highlighted in today's Wall Street Journal piece detailing the deals that representatives scored for their districts in exchange for their yes votes and local headlines like ???????Arms in Congress getting last twists??????????? and it's hard to imagine Sec. Duncan rejecting Strickland's personal pitch for Race to the Top dollars.

- Terry Ryan

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