Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 35
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
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State’s Failure to Win Educational Funds A “Sad Day” for Students, Taxpayers

Ellen Gilbert

“It’s just a mess,” said Princeton Regional School District Superintendent Judy Wilson of New Jersey’s recent failure to earn one of ten Federal “Race to the Top” funds and the ensuing speculations about who was to blame.

State Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, whose background is in politics, was fired as head of the State Department of Education (DOE) for an apparent four-point clerical error that cost the state the $400 million education grant. The mistake occurred when N.J. officials could not supply data for the years 2008 and 2009 as evidence of the State’s commitment to education financing. Instead, they provided data for 2010 and 2011.

Ms. Wilson described the loss of the money as “huge,” coming “at a time when resources to support great educators’ thinking and collaboration would benefit every child in the state. Slashing state aid to schools, massive layoffs across the state, and loss of competitive grant dollars is a tragic combination.”

In addition to points lost for providing the wrong financial information, a score sheet revealed that the state also lost points because of its failure to get agreement from 41 percent of its 645 school districts to carry out Race to the Top reforms. New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian reportedly viewed the state’s loss as a result of Mr. Christie’s decision “to reject the collaboration required by the U.S. Department of Education.” Mr. Christie acknowledged that the application lost 14 points due to lack of union support.

“It is a sad day for the students and taxpayers of New Jersey,” said School Board President Rebecca Cox, echoing Ms. Wilson’s sentiments. “The state government’s creation of a hostile and adversarial relationship with teachers and school districts is clearly not a good strategy for winning grants based on cooperation and collaboration,” she added.

Mr. Schundler’s resignation, according to Parker Block, spokesperson for the proposed Princeton International Academy Charter School, “does not represent a policy shift, so we don’t expect much to change within the DOE.”

Ms. Wilson was emphatic as she expressed the hope that “the next appointed commissioner is an educator!”

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