2010-09-02 / View From the Middle

Poor New Jersey: One Goof And $400M Lost

By Charles Rogers
Mom and Dad always said I should pay attention to details. “Go over your answers again; and then again, ” they would say practically in unison when I’d have a test or some other important document to write or fill in. The phrase occurred to me recently when I read about the members of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s administration who goofed when making out the application for millions of dollars in the federal education funding’s Race To The Top grant process.

View From The Middle View From The Middle About ten northeastern states were given the chance to get the big bucks to help their students to get a better education. These were youngsters and schools that showed some progress along the way and, if things went right, they would advance and, yes, prosper, with this money. I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars! All the states’ education departments had to do was follow instructions and the money was theirs.

The “contest,” so to speak, began last May, giving the schools involved plenty of time to dot their “i”s and angle their italics properly in the application and have it submitted by an August deadline and, all things being equal, they’d get their piece of the pie.

Unfortunately, New Jersey’s education department was told to give some budget information to the grant committee comparing the 2008 and 2009 school years, but they entered data comparing the current year to 2011 data instead and their request for the grant was turned down. They lost what would have amounted to $400 million. They tried to correct the error, but it turned out the correction submission was too late.

Last week, New York was told it had done all the proper things and, since it was a forward state in the education community (despite some barking from teachers’ representatives) jobs were saved and students can look forward to a forward looking education with $700 million new dollars, including $250- 300 million to New York City, according to goodnews deliverer U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

This is a lot of money, especially when budgetary problems told us we’d be, well, in the doldrums for awhile. Our students will now be working with upto the-minute materials, as well as up-to-the-minute educators who know their stuff. Those youngsters will now eventually be the recipients of measures geared to fight for higher standards, principal training and what Schumer called “master teachers.”

Meanwhile, I can’t help but feel sorry for the New Jersey students, educators and families who won’t get anything from the grant money — just because of a stupid, “minor” mistake (frankly, I can’t help but say to myself, “There but for the grace of God go I!” Don’t ask me why).

When Governor Christie was told that the grant had been turned down, he started to criticize the Obama Administration for, essentially, not forgiving the minor error, especially since aides to Christie’s Education Commissioner Bret Schundler had supposedly written and even called the federal office with the corrections.

Here’s where the situation gets worse, for New Jersey anyway: When Christie was questioned by the authorities he said he was told by his education commissioner — Schundler — that the corrections had been made in plenty of time to beat the deadline, but a subsequent videotape of the grant committee’s proceedings indicated he was wrong and that the corrections had not been made.

Christie had allegedly been lied to by his education czar. After discovering this, and being embarrassed not only before the education community but before the nation, he had no recourse than to ask Schundler to resign. However, the cowed commissioner asked to be fired so he could take advantage of his unemployment insurance. “I’ve got bills to pay and a child going into college,” he was quoted as saying.

I suppose we must be compassionate when we think about those “minor” mistakes and what they may cost in the long run. A few people in Christie’s Education Department are gone — and the children of our neighboring state just lost $400 million!

I have a feeling I’m going to be a little more careful in filling out my Income Tax information next year.

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