What's the deal with Gov. Christie and his education secretary? They may have jeopardized millions of dollars in federal grants because they didn't get their act together.

Christie last week submitted the state's application for $400 million in federal education stimulus funds. But missing were key compromises his own education commissioner had reached with the state's largest teachers' union.

State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler brokered a deal with the New Jersey Education Association that addressed key issues - such as merit pay, which the union has long opposed.

Schundler and the union found rare common ground on a merit-pay plan that would have rewarded schools that were achieving or improving. But Christie, to his credit, said merit pay should go to individual teachers, not to the schools.

Christie said Schundler wasn't authorized to make such concessions. Schundler says the deal was a mistake. Those two need to get on the same page. Christie should have made it clear to Schundler what concessions to make before negotiations began.

Now, by failing to reach a deal with the teachers, New Jersey may have missed a chance to get millions of dollars in federal education funds.

This is the second time that the state has applied for the federal Race to the Top funds. If the state loses out again, Christie vows to proceed with the changes he wants anyway.

That could be good since some of his ideas are more in line with the reforms that the Obama administration wants to make to improve public education, including linking teachers' pay to student performance and making it easier to fire bad teachers. The plan would also eliminate seniority and use teacher effectiveness to make job cuts.

Those are much-needed steps to improve failing schools and hold educators accountable for student achievement. It means rewarding the best teachers and principals. But such reforms may be hard to achieve without union support. Christie and Schundler should have agreed on what wouldn't be negotiable before meeting with the union. By not doing so, they may have left needed federal money on the table.