Musings on Sports, Politics and Life in general

How Bret Schundler inadvertently saved NJ’s schools

All of the furor over the NJ Department of Education’s faux pas, the one that “lost” $400 million in federal education aid, overlooked an important fact. States that are eagerly lining up for the “Race to the Top” funds are simultaneously throwing away more of their discretion in how to educate their youngest citizens. You may be asking yourself how that could be true; after all, isn’t the “Race to the Top” about improving educational opportunity?

Nominally, the answer to that question is yes. But like most federal diktats, the “Race to the Top” became a maze of byzantine rules and regulations far more than a program funneling money to states with innovative ideas for promoting education. The reason New Jersey was denied acceptance into the program is bizarre, even in bureaucratic terms. The scoring criteria included a minimum per-pupil spending increase. Had state officials used budget data from 2008 and 2009, the increase would have been represented; because they used current budget data, the state’s reduction in per-pupil spending was presented.

Only in the bizarro world of Washington D.C. would the state that ranks third in per-pupil spending wind up penalized for getting its fiscal house in order. Yes, New Jersey cut per-pupil spending this year, but what of it? Integral programs to education are intact, despite the hew and cry raised by the NJEA during the long debate leading to the final budget (unless, that is, you consider ice dancing and lacrosse integral to education).

Bret Schundler wasn’t fired for a clerical error. He was fired for lying to the governor about the clerical error. In that respect, Governor Christie had no choice but to fire Schundler; no leader can have morally challenged people on their executive team. But somebody should award Schundler a “Best Mistake of the Year” award. By losing out on those funds, New Jersey is exempt from federal oversight of any “Race to the Top” program mandates. Is it that important? Yes, if you think that the federal Department of Education has yet to live up to the stated reason for its creation. (The unstated reason, of course, was President Carter’s tit-for-tat with the NEA during the 1976 campaign).

In 31 years of federal mandates, administrated by the ED, American children continue to fall further behind their contemporaries in other nations. “No Child Left Behind” has effectively left an entire generation of children behind, unprepared for entry to either college or the workforce. Recent studies consistently demonstrate that higher percentages of students require remediation upon entry to college today than 30 years ago. The Department of Education is meeting its stated mission of ensuring that all students receive the same level of education. Even if the level is well below what an actual education should be.

Due to a clerical error and Governor Christie’s returning power to local school boards, New Jersey is poised to surge to the top in primary education. Which seems a far better option than a Race to the Top.

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