The $400 million in lost Race to the Top federal education funds was the hot education topic last week, and while the Legislature can have all the hearings it wants on the issue, the money has been doled out and New Jersey isn't getting any.
But lost in all the hoopla about how a 5-point mistake likely cost New Jersey the funds was the fact that the state is still eligible for $268 million in federal stimulus money to save teaching jobs.
The New Jersey Education Association is now all over that issue, demanding to know what is taking so long for the governor's office to apply for the new stimulus money. The state has 30 days - until Sept. 9 - to submit a short application.
Gov. Chris Christie had said he might not apply depending on the strings attached to the funds, but after the bill passed last month, he said he would take the funds so the state would control them. Technically, if he did not apply, districts could still get the funds directly from the U.S. Department of Education.
So far at least 21 states have already applied, including some that are also getting Race to the Top money. The NJEA sees an opening to criticize the governor, and they're taking full advantage of it, accusing him of dragging his feet.
Technically the money can be spread over two years, and many school officials have said they already finalized budgets for this year would prefer to save the stimulus funds for next year anyway when it may be needed even more. But with as many as 3,900 jobs at stake, the NJEA is going to keep applying pressure.
In rsponse to an e-mail asking about the application's status, the governor's spokesman, Michael Drewniak replied Monday with the following statement:
"The NJEA obviously has no role and no basis whatsoever to inject itself into the matter. Our application will be thorough, complete and submitted within the U.S. Department of Education’s deadline. "