Tale of the tape: NJ didn't fix a mistake on grant application the way governor says it did
HADDONFIELD, N.J. – A video released by the federal Department of Education shows that a piece of Gov. Chris Christie's explanation about what went wrong when the state made a $400 million mistake on a grant application may also have been wrong.
It appears to be a relatively small mistake made in describing the costly error. But the expedited release of the video to prove it shows that the federal government is eager to counter stinging criticism from New Jersey's outspoken Republican governor.
Oddly, the brouhaha has to do with one area of policy where Christie and President Barack Obama seem to agree: that the nation's schools should be better measured and more open to competition.
On Tuesday, the federal Department of Education announced that nine states and the District of Columbia had won coveted Race to the Top grants aimed at sparking major educational overhauls. New Jersey was the top runner-up — but didn't receive any money.
On Wednesday, Christie accepted responsibility for the error, but he also blasted the Obama administration for docking the state precious points in its evaluation for what he called a "clerical error" on an otherwise strong application.
The mistake was giving budget figures for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years where the application called for data from 2008 and 2009.
Christie said state education Commissioner Bret Schundler tried to correct the error in an Aug. 11 presentation to a federal panel that was judging the application.
"During that interview this issue was raised and Commissioner Schundler gave them, in the interview, the numbers for '08-'09 because the mistake was raised," he said. "But they still didn't give us the credit for the points."
If the points had not been docked, New Jersey's application may have finished ahead of Ohio's.
Thursday afternoon, the federal Department of Education released video of the presentation. Spokesman Justin Hamilton said it was being released ahead of schedule because of the interest in the saga, but he would not comment on it further.
The video seems to contradict Christie's account of the data being provided on the spot.
In the video, a panelist points out the error and asks for the correct data. Some education officials seated with Schundler can be seen flipping through binders trying to find it.
A half-hour later, near the end of the questioning, a panelist unseen in the video again asks if the numbers had been located. The state officials say it hadn't been.
During an appearance Thursday night on New Jersey 101.5, WKXW-FM, Christie said he had just heard about the video and had not seen it. He said he planned to review it later.