Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New Jersey Loses Out On Race To The Top Federal Grant Because of Clerical Error

Someone within the Christie Administration should lose their job over this. The state lost out on an opportunity to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in Race to the Top grant money for education reform because of a clerical error. The error involved using wrong year information when filling out the application.
New Jersey fell three points short of being one of the 10 finalists selected for hundreds of millions in federal education funding through the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grant program.

While the state scored high and low on a wide range of topics — including 10 points lost for lack of data systems to improve education — one 5-point answer was answered in error.

The state received nearly full points for its answer on the identical question on the application submitted for the first round of funding by the Corzine administration.

Here's a look at the question and answer, as well as the comments from reviewer's grading sheets, obtained Tuesday by The Star-Ledger and expected to be released today by the U.S. Department of Education.

The question answered in error is on PDF page 260 (see application), and the problematic answer is on PDF page 261. They read:

Q: The extent to which— (i) The percentage of the total revenues available to the State (as defined in this notice) that were used to support elementary, secondary, and public higher education for FY 2009 was greater than or equal to the percentage of the total revenues available to the State (as defined in this notice) that were used to support elementary, secondary, and public higher education for FY 2008

In fiscal year 2011, despite huge budget strains, the Governor is proposing an increase in state revenue-based support for education by 2.2% ($238 million). As proposed, preschool-12 education spending as a percentage of the state budget will be 35.4%. Federal ARRA funding will not be available to school districts in FY 2011, but the Governor and the executive team remain committed to funding education even as state revenue-based support for most other areas of state spending has been cut. This demonstrates that, despite severe fiscal challenges, the leadership in the state of New Jersey remains committed to education.
Unions will try to make hay over the gaffe, but note too that the last New Jersey attempt to obtain these funds failed as well. Gov. Corzine submitted the last attempt, and didn't even make the cut. That doesn't excuse the gaffe here though.

Still, if the education system in New Jersey is to be improved, it must come from within the state as federal money will only gloss over real problems and funding issues. After all, in a state where localities are spending nearly $20,000 per student (the statewide New Jersey average per capita spending is $16,491 in 2007-2008; second highest in the US behind New York) and still failing to educate those same students is doing something seriously wrong with all the money provided through existing state and local funding structures.

Gov. Christie is trying to spin this to his advantage, admitting the mistake but also noting that not only did New Jersey provide the proper information in an in-person session but that no one at the federal Education Department attempted to contact New Jersey about the discrepancy. Can't say that I can blame Christie for trying to spin this.

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