Buono Files OPRA Request For ‘Race To The Top’ Documents From Department Of Education

Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, reviews the vote tally during a voting session of the New Jersey State Senate.

Says Information Necessary For Senate Legislative Oversight Committee To Establish Safeguards Preventing Future Errors

TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, chair of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, today filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request with the Department of Education for information regarding how the administration handled the “Race to the Top” application, which was ultimately submitted with an error that cost the state $400 million in education funding.

The information will be part of the upcoming Senate Legislative Oversight Committee hearing to determine the cause of a flubbed response to a question that caused the state to miss the 10th-place winning spot in the competition which was conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. The committee will review the materials and work to ensure that, going forward, similar applications are handled with proper and adequate oversight before being submitted.

“The goal of the committee will be to establish safeguards within the preparation process of similar applications to ensure that the taxpayers of New Jersey do not miss out on additional federal funding for which the state qualifies,” Senator Buono (D-Middlesex) wrote in a letter to the Education Commissioner. “To do this, we will need to piece together the chain of events that led to this error.”

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Majority Leader Buono called for the meeting yesterday after learning the Governor’s explanation for the state’s 11th place finish in the competition, in which he blamed his administration, federal grant reviewers and the President. The 10 winners – nine states plus the District of Columbia – shared $3.4 billion in education funding. New Jersey finished just three points behind Ohio for the final position. The question the state failed to answer according to the application’s clear instruction was worth five points.

“Somewhere along the line, a breakdown in the process allowed an incorrect response to slip through the cracks,” said Senator Buono. “We need to determine the exact process the state followed in preparing and proofing this application, and establish the changes necessary to prevent this type of mistake going forward.”

The state changed its application for the ‘Race to the Top’ competition over Memorial Day weekend after the Governor refused to go along with compromises Education Commissioner Schundler agreed to with the New Jersey Education Association. The initial application contained the correct answer to a budget question involving funding in 2008 and 2009. The final draft included an answer comparing state budget information from 2010 and 2011.

Senator Buono added that with a multi-billion-dollar deficit projected in the FY 2012 state budget, it is more important than ever that New Jersey capture every dollar possible from the federal government.

The public records request seeks “all documents prepared, received, maintained, controlled or otherwise possessed by you, your employees or any independent contractors employed by the New Jersey Department of Education related to, discussing or describing New Jersey’s 2010 application to the U.S. Department of Education for The Race to the Top Funding.”

Click here to view Senator Buono’s letter to Education Commissioner Bret Schundler, as well as her OPRA request to the Department of Education.