DEMOCRATIC LEADERS: CHRISTIE KNEE-JERK JEOPARDIZES ‘RACE TO THE TOP’ APPLICATION

(TRENTON) — Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly education committees today said Governor Christie’s abrupt about-face on the state’s federal “Race to the Top” application seriously jeopardizes New Jersey’s chances to claim up to $400 million in aid for schools.

Last week, Education Commissioner Bret Schundler and the New Jersey Education Association heralded a compromise on key areas of merit pay and teacher evaluations that allowed the union to lend its support to the state’s submission — stakeholder unity being a key benchmark in the application’s review. However, after conservative pundits criticized the Governor for letting his administration work with the NJEA, Christie hastily directed his staff to rewrite the application over the weekend, removing language the Department had worked with the NJEA to draft.

“The Governor has apparently decided that hearing good things about himself over the radio is more valuable than $400 million for our schools,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “This application was crafted in good faith among everyone involved, and now that unity’s been blown up because some talking heads disagreed. If the Governor was as thick-skinned as he likes to make people think, he would shrug off the criticism and stand by the team that put together the state’s application.”

“The Governor’s decision is extremely disappointing from both a fiscal and educational standpoint,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “The Governor’s action decimates a plan built through hard work and compromise, single-handedly putting at risk our chances of obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid to improve our schools. This was a great opportunity to place politics aside and work together for the benefit of our children, but the Governor prefers the opposite approach. It’s time for the Governor to realize that bipartisan cooperation is more than just a handshake on a stage.”

Two weeks ago, both the Senate and Assembly unanimously supported resolutions putting the Legislature behind the state’s second attempt to land Race to the Top funding. In addition, legislative leaders worked with Commissioner Schundler on follow-up letters last week that reaffirmed the endorsement. In addition to Sweeney and Oliver, the letter was signed by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. (D-Middlesex).

“It was always presented to us that support and buy-in from all stakeholders was crucial and that New Jersey must have an application that spoke in one clear, united voice,” said Ruiz. “On Friday, all of the participants, including Education Commissioner Schundler, the NJEA and the Legislature, had reached a consensus to support a comprehensive proposal. The late decision to alter the application jeopardizes $400 million in federal funds that are critically needed during these challenging economic times and that could help improve our public education system.”

“The governor’s last-second decision to sabotage New Jersey’s Race to the Top proposal is an irresponsible step backward in our hopes to improve education,” said Diegnan “Gov. Christie has shoved aside an improvement plan built cooperatively by everyone involved and is very likely costing New Jersey taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. It’s just a shame that the governor is letting politics once again interfere with educating children.”

New Jersey lost out on the first round of Race to the Top funding in large part because its plan did not garner unified support from all stakeholders.

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