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“We really are a local-control state, and we want to give our districts flexibility,” said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education.

While Indiana hasn’t won previous rounds of Race to the Top, she said the Hoosier State has implemented many of the proposed reforms anyway.

But critics believe the district-level approach could undermine those state-led efforts, while also representing a major shift in the administration’s education policy.

“They’ve driven their grant programs through the states, but now they’re saying they want to deal directly with a district. It’s 180 degrees from what they’ve been doing since they got into office,” said Mr. Tomalis.