(TRENTON) – Assembly Appropriations Chairwoman Nellie Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen) released the following statement Tuesday as she convened a hearing into the administration’s Race to the Top error:
“Ladies and gentlemen there has been much speculation about the purpose for today’s hearing.
“As we all know, New Jersey was not among the states chosen to receive funding from the federal Race to the Top education program because of the administration’s failure to properly complete the application.
“This was a great disappointment, especially considering how the effort to receive this money was initially a cooperative bid by so many involved in education in New Jersey, ranging from the teachers to the Legislature and the state Department of Education.
“The result of this mistake – New Jersey lost out on $400 million when teachers are losing their jobs, property taxes are soaring and the quality of education is at risk.
“One would hope that extra attention would be paid to details when our children are involved, but somehow that wasn’t the case.
“Taxpayers and children will now pay the price.
“Today’s hearing is about determining exactly what happened throughout the development and submission of this application.
“It is not about being able to point our fingers.
“Rather, it’s about being able to understand the mistakes that were made so that we – the administration and the Legislature – can develop the safeguards to ensure it does not happen again.
“It is perhaps an overused quote, but ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.’
“I believe we can all agree that whether there is $4 or $400 million on the line, New Jersey cannot afford to repeat this mistake.
“My colleagues and I have many questions about the way in which this application was developed.
“Who had input?
“Who had the final say on our answers?
“How many levels of editing were involved?
“What was the consultants’ role in the final product?
“What were the lines of communication between the department and the front office?
“And so forth.
“Only by understanding how a mistake of this magnitude was made will we be able to move forward with any confidence that it won’t happen again.
“Now, I have been asked by Speaker Oliver to have this panel examine this mistake, and I take my responsibility as chair of this committee very seriously.
“Unfortunately, we begin today’s hearing with a sense of frustration.
“The governor’s office did not, as we requested, permit key players to attend this hearing to explain to the people of New Jersey what truly happened.
“We also did not get a timely response to our request for documentation.
“We will hear today from state Department of Education officials, and at least that’s a start, but that’s all it is – a start.
“Before we hear from them, I want to make this very clear – this is not a witch hunt, as some partisans have carelessly claimed.
“That attitude and rhetoric is insulting to the people of New Jersey who lost $400 million in education funding just when it was needed most.
“Speaker Oliver has made clear that the Assembly takes seriously its oversight role over the administration.
“This oversight role is a long tradition of American democracy dating back to our Founding Fathers.
“Checks and balances are vital to a strong democracy, and I would be disappointed if some of my Assembly colleagues continue to advocate shirking their oversight responsibility in favor of partisan politics.
“I will be especially saddened if members of this committee fall victim to that corrosive attitude today, rather than joining in a cooperative legislative effort to find out exactly what happened.
“To use the governor’s own phrasing, legislators should not be mindless drones.
“They should be independent thinkers.
“This is, after all, more than lost money for our taxpayers.
“This was a lost opportunity to truly make a difference in our classrooms, especially for our neediest children.
“Protecting taxpayers and at-risk children should be among our highest priorities.
“That’s why taxpayers deserve answers as to how something this inexcusable could have possibly happened.”