New Jersey fell just short of being one of the 10 finalists selected for hundreds of millions in education funding through the Obama administration's Race to the Top education grant program. A silly error on New Jersey's application for the grants might have cost the state $400 million.
A panel judged the lengthy applications on a 500-point scale. New Jersey finished just three points behind Ohio, which received the grant.
According the Associated Press, New Jersey lost all five points on one section in which officials were asked to show that the state gives a consistent percentage of its revenue to education. The application called for using data from 2008 and 2009 to make the case, but New Jersey used figures from the 2010 and 2011 state budgets.
On Tuesday, the federal government announced that nine states and the District of Columbia had won the coveted grants. New Jersey was the top runner-up.
It's not certain that the state would have aced the section if the numbers had been written correctly — but it certainly would have done better.
Gov. Chris Christie said in a news conference Tuesday that it was one error in a document that ran hundreds of pages, and that it was more significant for the state's score that the state's main teachers union didn't endorse his plan.
It appears that his administration made the error just before it submitted the application on June 1, according to differences between a draft of the application and the form that was submitted.
Marie Bilik, executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association, told the AP she hoped the changes called for in the state's grant application would move forward even without the infusion of federal money.
While the state scored high and low on a wide range of topics --- including 10 points lost for lack of data systems to improve education --- one 5-point answer was answered in error.
NJ.com reports the question answered in error and the problematic answer read:
Q: The extent to which --- (i) The percentage of the total revenues available to the State (as defined in this notice) that were used to support elementary, secondary, and public higher education for FY 2009 was greater than or equal to the percentage of the total revenues available to the State (as defined in this notice) that were used to support elementary, secondary, and public higher education for FY 2008
A: (i) EDUCATION SPENDING AS A PERCENTAGE OF STATE SPENDING
In fiscal year 2011, despite huge budget strains, the Governor is proposing an increase in state revenue-based support for education by 2.2% ($238 million). As proposed, preschool-12 education spending as a percentage of the state budget will be 35.4%. Federal ARRA funding will not be available to school districts in FY 2011, but the Governor and the executive team remain committed to funding education even as state revenue-based support for most other areas of state spending has been cut. This demonstrates that, despite severe fiscal challenges, the leadership in the state of New Jersey remains committed to education.
New Jersey received 0.2 of a possible 5 points for the answer. The Race to the Top applications were graded by five reviewers and averaged for a final score.
Ohio, which received the benefits of New Jersey's mistake, is even talking about it at Cincinnati.com.
"These points should have been a gimme," Derek Roseman, spokesman for Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told the Newark Star Ledger. "This is like losing 200 points on the SAT because you didn't write your name on the top sheet."