New Jersey – With controversy continuing to swirl around its list of proposed college construction grants, Christie administration officials are refusing to release copies of applications filed by two religious institutions set to receive public dollars for campus building projects.
The state Secretary of Higher Education’s Office denied a Star-Ledger request, filed under the state’s Open Public Records Act, to view the applications filed by Beth Medrash Govoha and Princeton Theological Seminary for a piece of $1.3 billion in available state grants.
For weeks, lawmakers and civil liberties groups have been questioning why taxpayers are funding construction projects at religious schools that are not open to students of all faiths. Some legislators have also questioned the process Christie administration officials used to select the two schools for grants.
Tuesday, state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) called on Gov. Chris Christie to provide documents showing how the grant decisions were made, and she and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) introduced legislation to block the grants if the administration doesn’t comply.
“For the administration to suggest to the Legislature and the public that the manner in which these funds were allocated is not information we are entitled to have is as bewildering as it is unacceptable,” Oliver wrote in the letter.
But administration officials said releasing copies of the grant applications filed by the religious institutions would jeopardize the competitive process overseen by the state Secretary of Higher Education’s Office.
“Public release of the applications at this time could give an unfair advantage to applicants and undermine the integrity of the process,” said Colin Reed, a spokesman for Christie. “When the process is complete, the secretary intends to make applications public as allowed by law.”
Beth Medrash Govoha is scheduled to receive $10.6 million to build a new library and academic center. Princeton Theological Seminary, which trains Christian ministers, is slated to receive $645,313 for technology upgrades.
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