TRENTON – Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono sent a letter to Governor Chris Christie requesting that he apologize for his “disparaging and partisan attack on federal education officials” following the state’s error on the Race to the Top education funding application.
Last Wednesday, Governor Christie fielded questions at an unrelated bill signing ceremony about New Jersey’s failure to qualify for federal funds from the Race to the Top initiative, a program designed to give states the resources to enact broad public education reforms. Ultimately, New Jersey’s application, which scored higher than its first-round application, was just three points shy of funding approval.
A review of the state’s application showed that officials included the budget data for the wrong years in response to one question that was worth five points. If the question had been answered properly, it would have allowed New Jersey to win $400 million in federal education funding.
At the Wednesday bill signing ceremony, the Governor said that he was ultimately responsibile for the state’s application error, but then argued that the federal government never gave New Jersey a chance to correct its minor mistake.
The lawmakers said that the governor launched into a “diatribe against the federal bureaucracy, the President, the federal Department of Education, and anyone else to whom he could deflect the blame.” Since those remarks, federal education officials have revealed videotaped evidence proving that New Jersey was given the opportunity, but failed to provide the correct information to qualify for funding.
Christie has since fired state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, who has also accepted responsibility for the application error.
“I can understand that the Governor was upset about the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars to help New Jersey communities which are reeling from his draconian state aid cuts in the FY 2011 Budget,” said Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “However, his comments about federal education regulators being ‘mindless drones’ was completely uncalled for, given that the State’s failure was ours’ and ours’ alone. It’s time for the Governor to man up and admit the mistake of his Administration, rather than engage in divisive rhetoric which only serves to damage our relationship with the federal government.”
“I am disappointed that rather than take responsibility for the mistakes of his Administration, the Governor’s response was simply to target and ridicule the next scapegoat,” said Senate Majority Leader Buono, D-Middlesex. “For him to lash out indiscriminately against everyone but his own policy advisors – who ultimately dropped the ball here – is disrespectful and counterproductive. It’s time for the Governor to apologize for his partisan rhetoric and work with the federal government to maximize assistance for New Jersey’s hard-hit families during this time of nearly unprecedented economic hardship.”
While state lawmakers continue to try to understand who ultimately was responsible for New Jersey’s $400 million mistake, the members of the Senate leadership said it was important to make amends for the Governor’s “harsh and unwarranted attack.”
“At a time when our State is coming to terms with a chronic cycle of budget deficits and is making hard choices to balance revenues against spending, the bottom line is that we need federal assistance,” said Sweeney. “I don’t think that the federal government will hold New Jersey residents accountable for the Governor’s heated rhetoric, but at the same time, we shouldn’t be jeopardizing our partnership with federal leaders to meet New Jersey’s fiscal needs. The Governor should apologize and put this whole episode behind him as a lesson in getting all the facts before you simply jump to conclusions.”
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