A week ago, Ohio’s newspapers breathlessly reported that U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan had told Governor-elect John Kasich that Ohio was in no danger of losing its “Race to the Top” money if Ohio abandoned Governor Strickland’s “evidence-based” school funding model.

Of course, the only source for this revelation was… Governor-elect Kasich.

Kasich said Tuesday that he’s talked with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the issue. He says Duncan assured him that Ohio will get the money as long as its education plan includes accountability for student performance.

We could find no story in which anyone from the U.S. Department of Education itself confirms that Secretary Duncan has made such a representation to Governor-elect Kasich.  Not one.

And there’s a reason to doubt the U.S. Department of Education made such representation because in earlier reports an agency spokesman presented a much different picture just a week before:

Duncan’s spokesman, Justin Hamilton, said previously that “if any state significantly changes the plan, it will be putting all Race to the Top funds in jeopardy.” (Source: Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 19, 2010)

Yesterday, we pointed out the inherent failure of journalism this reporting constituted:

Seriously, this counts as journalism in Ohio: John Kasich announced that he isn’t putting school funding reform money in jeopardy.  Of course, the Dispatch hasn’t confirmed this with… the U.S. Department of Education.  We’re literally taking Kasich’s word on this.  Well, the Dispatch is, we’re actually waiting to hear back from the U.S. Department of Education seeking their confirmation or clarification as to precisely what U.S. Department of Education Arne Duncan told Governor-elect Kasich.

So, we called the U.S. Department of Education’s press office in Washington, D.C. with a very simply question: can the agency confirm that Secretary Duncan told Governor-elect Kasich that eliminating Ohio’s “evidence-based” model would have no affect on Ohio’s entitlement to its “Race to the Top” funds?

This is the e-mailed prepared response we received from an U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman:

“While we sincerely hope to see every dollar get delivered as planned, we cannot make any commitments about funding until our staff analyzes any proposed changes and makes a determination as to whether they significantly alter the plan or are approvable.”

It would appear that whatever Secretary Duncan told Governor-elect Kasich, it was far more nuanced and ambiguous than he’s publicly reported it.

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