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START THE RACE!

TIME FOR COMMISSIONER TO CIRCULATE NJ'S PHASE II RACE TO THE TOP APPLICATION FOR STAKEHOLDER BUY-IN

Though New Jersey did not receive funding in Phase I of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition, taking part in the process proved to be useful for the State's chances in Phase II. Federal reviewers have outlined the deficiencies in the initial application, as well as those areas in which New Jersey is at the head of the class.

The NJ application got poor marks because of the low level of stakeholder support for the school reform plan proposed by the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE), the lack of coherence in the reform plan itself, and the Department's limited capacity to implement the plan. But the reviewers praised NJ's commitment to adequate and equitable school funding, especially for the State's at-risk students.

Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler recently said he was "not surprised" that NJ did not make the list of Phase I finalists. He also said that the NJDOE had begun working on the Phase II application, noting the willingness of the NJ teachers' association to work with him on the new application.

The deadline for submission of the Phase II application -- June 1 -- is fast approaching. But to date, the Commissioner has not released a draft of the application or any details about his proposals.

Given that the deadline is only six weeks away, Education Law Center sent a letter to the Commissioner on April 12 detailing the key concerns raised by the federal reviewers of the Phase I application. In addition, ELC urges the Commissioner to release the Phase II application as soon as possible for stakeholder consideration.

ELC also notes that Governor Christie's proposed massive cut in state school aid for FY2011 could jeopardize NJ's chances to succeed in the Phase II competition.

And finally, the letter underscores that the federal reviewers "did not raise any issue with respect to existing State law that might impede addressing the RTTT reforms in the Phase II application." In other words, NJ's Phase II application does not require any action by the State Legislature, another reason why the Commissioner should release a draft application and begin the process of building stakeholder support as quickly as possible.

The RTTT process has received considerable press attention in NJ and nationally, and most stakeholders are well aware of the opportunity. The Governor and Commissioner have repeated their commitment to positioning NJ well in this competition. For these reasons, it is imperative that the race to develop a winning Phase II application, with stakeholder buy-in, begin now.

For more information, contact:

Sharon Krengel, Policy & Outreach Coordinator, skrengel@edlawcenter.org, 973.624.1815 ext.24.