Montgomery County school officials have no regrets about refusing federal funds even as school systems around them are given millions of dollars. The district would have received up to $12 million of Maryland's $250 million award from the national Race to the Top education reform initiative. Next-door neighbor Prince George's County is swimming in $23.4 million, the second-largest award in the state behind Baltimore City's $52.8 million. Baltimore County is taking in $17.4 million, and Anne Arundel will reap $6.9 million.

Montgomery and Frederick County opted out of the state's Race to the Top application after school officials doubted the

required reforms -- which

include revamped standardized testing procedures and teacher evaluations based 50 percent on students' state exam scores -- could top their existing tests and teacher evaluations.

"While we want all Maryland children to be successful, our top priority is the students of Montgomery County," Weast wrote in a Baltimore Sun editorial. "MCPS must be very careful about signing on to a plan that might dilute the successful strategies that we have so carefully implemented during the past decade."

When the school system was considering signing on in April, Montgomery County Education Association President Doug Prouty said "if the state imposes a system on counties and teachers, there's no guarantee that it will look at anything other than test scores and arbitrary standards. ... Good evaluations are much more complicated than that."

Upon hearing of the windfalls in Prince George's and other surrounding counties, Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said, "It didn't change our opinion.

"The money that is going to local districts is not for general expenditure," said Tofig, noting Montgomery already has a teacher-evaluation tool "that is effective, that is research-based, that is being held up as a national model, and we don't want to change that for a teacher evaluation system that is not defined at all, and we frankly have few details about it."

A cornerstone of Montgomery's teacher evaluations is providing a year of intense development for novice teachers and for experienced teachers who receive "below standard" evaluations from their principals. The coaching is provided by fellow teachers who take a three-year break from the profession, then resume teaching for Montgomery.

Montgomery ranked ninth among Maryland's 23 counties in 2010 graduation rates and has not cracked the top three since 2003. With about 144,000 students, Montgomery is the largest school district in the state and has spent the last 10 years trying to close an achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their higher-performing white and Asian peers.