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Race to Top: In Defense of New Jersey

New Jersey state officials, and Gov. Chris Christie's administration in particular, have taken a beating over the state's failed Race to the Top application, and a crucial error that may have cost them $400 million.

Now an official from a schools organization offers a spirted defense of the state's actions, arguing that the Obama administration had good reason to cut the state some slack.

David Griffith, the public policy director at ASCD—formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development—says in an online essay that federal officials could easily have allowed New Jersey officials to correct the fatal error on the application, which related to including the wrong budget years in the proposal. Federal officials had access to the correct information on New Jersey's budget, Griffith writes, and in fact, the state had given it in its application for state fiscal stabilization funds.

At the very least, federal officials "had available New Jersey's fiscal data in question," Griffith writes. The ASCD policy director appears to have prepared his defense of the state's application pretty thoroughly. He jokes that he watched the taped interview the department conducted with state officials with a intensity normally reserved for the Zapruder film.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, while New Jersey admits to not providing the specific budget data required by the RTTT grant application requirements, they did provide more current funding information," Griffith explains. "In addition, the state did provide the correct budget information in several other [economic stimulus] documents and applications connected to the Race to the Top program, giving Secretary Duncan several opportunities and the leeway during the application process and grant allocation/award phase to better and more fully consider the relevant fiscal resources New Jersey dedicates to education and award partial points in this area."

Some New Jersey politicians aren't as sympathetic to the explanations offered by Gov. Christie's Republican administration. State Democrats held a public hearing last week on the mistake and who was to blame. The state's attorney general, meanwhile—a Christie appointee—said she is conducting a review of the role that a private consultant, Wireless Generation Inc., played in writing the proposal. That inquiry is supported by state Republicans.

Griffith rests his case. I ask you, the jury: Do you buy it?

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