Garden State Fools: U.S. Officials Refute Christie on Attempt to Fix Race to the Top Application


race-to-the-top-nj[Video below.] When New Jersey failed to win up to $400 million in federal education money, Gov. Chris Christie blamed Washington bureaucrats, saying they refused to allow the state to fix a simple error in its application.

But yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released video footage contradicting Christie’s claim. The video shows state officials struggling and failing to provide correct budget information during a 90-minute presentation. In addition, a federal official said the state never provided the required information.

About one hour into the presentation, held on Aug. 11 in Washington, D.C., a soft-spoken reviewer asked for help locating missing information in the state’s application for Race to the Top funding. After a few moments of silence, New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler turned to the assistant commissioner to his left.

“No I cannot. I don’t, um…” said the assistant commissioner, Willa Spicer.

“We can come back to that, if someone wants to take a look, that would be fine,” said a reviewer, one of five who would grade the state’s application.

See the video below.

Though Christie has portrayed federal officials as nitpicking and begrudging about the state’s application, the video shows that toward the end of the session, federal reviewers asked the New Jersey delegation a second time if they had found the correct information.

“No. No, we all searched,” Spicer said.

A video screen grab from New Jersey’s interview during the Race to the Top process where the state was hoping to get $400 million. In this clip the panel has just asked for the 2008-09 budget numbers and no one on the panel is able to provide the information. Pictured from left to right are Executive Assistant of Innovation and Change at Newark Public Schools Daniel Gohl, Assistant Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, Commissioner Bret Schundler, Assistant Commissioner Willa Spicer, and Deputy Commissioner Andrew Smarick.

During a press conference on Wednesday, the governor said the state furnished the missing information during the Aug. 11 interview, and Washington bureaucrats refused to accept it because the June 1 deadline for applications had passed.

“When we went in for the personal interview, two weeks before the decision was made they raised the issue with us,” Christie said. “Commissioner Schundler gave them, in the interview, the numbers for ’08 and ’09 because the mistake was raised. But they still didn’t give us the credit for the points.”

The Race to the Top application had asked for figures on state education funding from 2008 and 2009, but state officials provided figures for 2011. The oversight cost the state 4.8 critical points on a 500-point application. The state missed out on the grant by 3 points, placing 11th behind Ohio.

In an interview tonight on New Jersey 101.5, Christie said his public comments on Wednesday were based on what his administration told him happened during the presentation.

“Obviously I was not in the meeting,” he said. “I was conveying what I was told by the folks who were there.”

Christie said he had not seen the video, and when asked about his response if the video contradicts his public statements, he said: “I’ll be seriously disappointed if that turns out not to have been true … I’m seriously disappointed, I’m serious.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s response to Christie’s criticism was not limited to the video. Spokesman Justin Hamilton, asked in an e-mail if the state had at any time supplied the information from the correct budget years, provided a one-word answer: “No.”

Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the video showed the blame lies with Christie, not the unions or the Obama administration.

“The governor needs to stop pointing fingers at everybody else,” Baker said. “This isn’t the fault of Washington bureaucrats, it isn’t the fault of a midlevel bureaucrat in the department of education. This isn’t the fault of the NJEA. It’s solely the fault of the governor because he chose to submit a bad application.”

The NJEA produced paperwork on Wednesday showing the Christie administration had changed the budget information in question after the union signed off on the application.

The Race to the Top application had been rewritten over the Memorial Day weekend after Christie rejected an initial compromise with the NJEA on issues such as merit pay, tenure and using seniority in layoffs.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said the video “ends the blame game.”

“I hope the Christie Administration will not only accept responsibility, but also implement new procedures so that federal education funding opportunities are not jeopardized in the future,” he said.

Christie has dubbed the mistake a mere “clerical error” in the state’s 1,000-page application. Democrats in Trenton have seized on the mistake, calling for legislative hearings with testimony from people “top to bottom” at the state Department of Education.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who said Christie’s word has always been good, said the tape would be a “big problem” for Christie.

“This is extremely concerning, that now there’s a tape that proves that what he said today wasn’t true,” Sweeney said. “If anyone thinks a mid-level manager, an individual, was responsible for a $400 million grant application, I’ll sell you a bridge in Brooklyn. No one believes it.”

Click below to watch the video:

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