COLUMBIA -- Advocates for South Carolina schools said Friday they were stunned by the state school superintendent's decision not to go after up to $50 million in federal education grants and said they will try to find a way to get the money with or without the school chief's help.

A spokesman for Superintendent Mick Zais said they shouldn't have been surprised because as a candidate Zais said in forums sponsored by the groups that he would not pursue the so-called Race to the Top grants.

Zais said Wednesday he had not changed his mind about pursuing the money because he still thinks taking more federal funds for education won't solve the problems in South Carolina public schools and will just make the state more beholden to U.S. education officials.

The state School Boards Association and the Association of School Administrators plan to ask the Republican superintendent to change his mind. But if that doesn't work, the groups will try to find a way to apply for the money themselves.

It isn't immediately clear if anyone other than the leader of a state's schools can apply for the grants. President Barack Obama's administration gave South Carolina and eight other states another shot at applying for the $10 million to $50 million grants.

The state, which applied for the money under Democratic schools

chief Jim Rex, got another opportunity because it narrowly lost in earlier rounds for the competitive grants.

"If we just walk away from it, the big winners are going to be the other seven states, who have one less state to compete with. And our federal tax money is still going to Washington," said Paul Krohne, executive director of the School Boards Association.

Zais spokesman Jay Ragley said Friday that the superintendent isn't likely to meet with the groups.

"This is just another example that no amount of taxpayer money can quench the thirst of the education establishment," Ragley said.

What the groups can do to pursue the money without Zais' consent is unclear. Federal education officials didn't respond to questions about the application process, and the groups haven't done a lot of research.

"We were not consulted prior to the announcement from Dr. Zais. We were caught very surprised," Krohne said. "So we really haven't looked at many options."