N.J. Loses out on $60M in Competition for Federal Education Money

Jessica Calefati | The Star-Ledger
12/16/11

 STATEWIDE — New Jersey has lost another high profile competition for federal education money nearly a year and a half after an application error cost the state $400 million in a similar competition.

This time New Jersey was eligible for up to $60 million through a federal competition known as Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge.

The state's application proposed evaluating every early childhood center and pre-school serving low-income students statewide. It also proposed using standardized tests to assess kindergarteners and increased professional development for early childhood educators.

The nine winners who will share $500 million in grant money include California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington, the Associated Press reports.

An e-mail sent this morning from the U.S. Department of Education notified state officials of the loss.

"Unfortunately, the state your office represents was NOT among the winning states," according to the e-mail. "The competition was tough and we received more quality applications than we could fund."

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the state is disappointed it's application was not awarded funding, but said New Jersey will still pursue its early learning proposals. Reform is already taking place, he said, citing the governor's Early Learning Commission as one example.

"Ultimately, the process of developing an application strengthened collaboration across state agencies and led to the development of a comprehensive plan that will serve as a road map for the future of early childhood education in New Jersey," Cerf said in a statement.

The money is part of the Obama Administration's signature education initiative, which pits state against state in a competition for federal money to enact reforms the administration supports. Some of those reforms include a focus on early childhood education, data-driven instruction and evaluating teachers using student test scores.

New Jersey's failure to include correct budget information on it's last Race to the Top application cost the state 4.8 points in a competition it lost by 3. The high-profile loss was a major blunder for Gov. Chris Christie, who fired his former state education commissioner, Bret Schundler in the wake of the gaffe.

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