New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie blasted the Department of Education and its Race to the Top program on Wednesday after the department rejected his state's application for up to $400 million in grants - because of what amounted to a clerical error.
New Jersey was in the running for up to $400 million in grants, but walked away empty-handed in part because the state was docked 5 points for an error in their application — and the penalty put them below the 440-point threshold to qualify for the money.
"This is the stuff, candidly, that drives people crazy about government and crazy about Washington," Christie said on Tuesday. "Does anybody in Washington, D.C., have a lick of common sense?"
But like a stern professor scolding an errant student, the Department of Education isn't moved.
Not only has it dismissed Christie's appeal, it has rejected the the goivernor's request for a share of $100 million left over in the Race to The Top pool.
“Our application requirements were very clear and a state that wanted to compete had to give us the correct information by the application deadline,” said Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton. “At some point you have to say: time’s up, pencils down.”
States earn points in a 500- point system for submitting a variety of information on their reform plans in their grant applications. Many states frantically sought to boost their point totals sometimes by rushing to pass needed legislation before the June 1 deadline.
New Jersey lost points for providing incorrect information in response to a question about the state’s funding levels. Instead of providing information about the 2008-2009 school year, as the application question asked, state administrators provided information about their budgets for the upcoming 2011 school year.
Christie conceded that his state made a mistake, but argued that an administrative error—one page in a 1,000-page document—should not be used to deny his state millions in federal funding for schools.
But the Department of Education maintains that they have to stick to a very strict application deadline in order to keep the system fair for all of the other state applicants.
Hamilton complimented New Jersey on putting together an impressive application, and said that the department looks forward to working with the state in a third round of Race to the Top—if there is one.
“We applaud Gov. Christie as a leader in education reform,” Hamilton said. “NJ is an example for the rest of the country.”
According to the guidelines for Race to the Top, reviewers cannot take into consideration new information after the June deadline. And Hamilton said that a number of other state applications would have to be reconsidered if they made an exception for New Jersey.