Did New Jersey Governor Lose $400 Million for Students?

By Kevin Hart

In June, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made a public spectacle of tossing aside a federal Race to the Top application that was written with collaboration among state education officials, the New Jersey Education Association, and other key education stakeholders. He publicly insisted that he could write a better application that would enhance the state’s chances at winning a $400 million share of the $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds.

Now, it appears Christie’s political theater may have cost New Jersey a fortune.

When the U.S. Department of Education yesterday announced 10 winners of round two of the $4.5 billion Race to the Top competition New Jersey finished eleventh — just three points behind tenth-place finisher Ohio, which is slated to receive as much as $400 million for its schools.

A few extra points – such as the points that would have been available by collaborating with NJEA and other stakeholders – may have made the difference between walking away with $400 million and walking away with nothing. Now, the big question being asked around the Garden State is, did Gov. Christie just cost New Jersey $400 million in desperately-needed education dollars?

According to NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, there’s no question about it.

“New Jersey’s failure to win Race to the Top funding is a direct result of Gov. Christie’s misguided decision to hijack the grant application process for his own political purposes,” she said. “His decision to reject the collaboration required by the U.S. Department of Education cost New Jersey a chance at $400 million.”

As Keshishian points out, Race to the Top awards extra points for states that collaborate with education stakeholders in the writing of their applications. New Jersey’s original application, which Christie tossed aside, had pledges of support from NJEA and close to 400 of its local education associations.

“The original application was developed over several weeks in consultation with educational stakeholder groups including NJEA, and it had the support of hundreds of NJEA local education associations, as encouraged by the Race to the Top application guidelines,” said Keshishian. “Gov. Christie’s substitute application, which was hastily prepared without input from professional educators, lacked any such support.”

The haste with which New Jersey’s application was written also may have caused it to lose points on a section where the state provided funding data for the wrong years.

“(Gov. Christie) owes students and taxpayers an apology for undermining a process that could have brought much-needed resources and genuine reform to our state’s public schools,” Keshishian added. “Maybe this costly lesson will convince Gov. Christie to realize that collaboration is preferable to confrontation when it comes to building consensus around sound public policy.”

Photo: Mel Evans/AP