Federal educators evaluating New York's ultimately unsuccessful application for a Race to the Top grant felt there would be political barriers to enacting reform here. Small wonder.

Under pressure from teachers unions, the State Legislature failed to alter anti-reform laws. Union leaders then boycotted informational meetings about the grant program, and 40 percent of them refused to sign in support of New York's application - even when the language was rewritten to ensure that collective bargaining agreements would supersede any new federal rules.

Essentially, New York's unruly politics surrendered as much as $700 million in education funds, even as the state is desperate to close a $9.2-billion deficit. For the next round of funding, due June 1, lawmakers should heed Gov. David Paterson's call to lift the cap on charter schools and eliminate a law that bars tying teacher tenure to student performance. Assembly Democrats, especially, must stop panting after the unions' electoral support and do what's good for children.

Federal educators did deliver some good news: They acknowledged state gains in standards, graduation rates and closing achievement gaps for minority students. But there were criticisms, too - especially that New York isn't aggressive enough in intervening in low-performing schools.

New York came in 15th out of 16 finalists in this first-round contest. We shouldn't let politics cause us to flunk round two. hN