Mistake might have given Ohio education grant over NJ

HADDONFIELD, N.J.  (AP) - For anyone who's ever entered the wrong number on a tax return and been denied a refund, or accidentally overtipped, here's some consolation: A silly error on New Jersey's application for the highly competitive Race to the Top education grants might have cost the state $400 million.

On Tuesday, the federal government announced that nine states and the District of Columbia had won the coveted grants. New Jersey was the top runner-up.

A panel judged the lengthy applications on a 500-point scale. New Jersey finished just three points behind Ohio, which received the grant - and was only barely ahead of Arizona and Louisiana, which didn't.

But New Jersey lost all five points on one section in which officials were asked to show that the state gives a consistent percentage of its revenue to education. The application called for using data from 2008 and 2009 to make the case. New Jersey used figures from the 2010 and 2011 state budgets.

It's not certain that the state would have aced the section if the right numbers had been used - but it certainly would have done better.

The gaffe was first reported by the Star-Ledger of Newark. It appears that the governor's administration made the error just before it submitted the application on June 1, according to differences between a draft of the application and the form that was submitted.

State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat, called it "a stunning mistake that is going to hurt New Jersey's children."

Republican Gov. Chris Christie said in a news conference Tuesday that it was one error in a document that ran hundreds of pages, and that it was more significant for the state's score that the state's main teachers union didn't endorse his plan.

Before the deadline, Education Commissioner Bret Schundler worked out some compromises with the union, the New Jersey Education Association, to get the union's support. Dawn Hiltner, a union spokeswoman who was on the committee, provided a draft of the application that included the budget data from the right years. But before that application was submitted, Christie said he wouldn't abide by the compromises - most of which dealt with how merit pay for teachers would work.

The reworked application used numbers from the wrong years.

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