Gov. Christie shed lots of credibility in the blundering drama that led him to fire his handpicked education commissioner, Bret Schundler.
For those of you who may have missed a riveting show last week, the drama began when the U.S. Education Department decided not to award New Jersey $400 million in a school grant program called “Race to the Top.” (Pennsylvania didn’t win a grant, either).
Ten states received this coveted aid. The federal government rated states’ applications on a numerical system, awarding points in several categories that reflected each state’s level of commitment to education reform.
New Jersey came in 11th place, three points behind Ohio. A search for blame ensued.
It turned out that New Jersey’s application omitted requested data from the state’s 2008 and 2009 budgets. Instead, it contained information from the 2011 budget.
Christie held a news conference and took responsibility, sort of, for the “clerical error.” But Gov. Bully-In-A-China-Shop spent more time railing against Washington bureaucrats for being too lazy to ask Trenton for the correct information.
The governor said Schundler had even supplied the correct information verbally on Aug. 11 in a meeting with U.S. education officials. But the diabolical Obama administration still wouldn’t give New Jersey credit on its application.
“When the president comes back to New Jersey, he’s going to have to explain to the people of the state of New Jersey why he’s depriving them of $400 million,” Christie said.
That’s a taste of Christie’s half-hour, mad-as-hell soliloquy against Washington bureaucrats and Obama.
But a day later, the governor was treated to a video recording of Schundler’s appearance in Washington on Aug. 11.
In it, federal officials are heard asking Schundler and his aides twice for the missing budget data. Team New Jersey was unable to locate it, at least while the cameras were rolling.
Based on this, Christie decided Schundler had misled him. He asked for Schundler’s resignation, didn’t get it, and fired him.
It wasn’t the first time Christie and Schundler got into a high-profile dispute. In May, Christie rejected a deal that Schundler negotiated with the New Jersey Education Association to get the teacher union’s support for the “Race to the Top” application. For Christie, the NJEA is the evil empire.
After Christie blew up the compromise with the NJEA, the state’s application had to be changed to meet the deadline. It makes you wonder if the governor’s Pavlovian animosity for the NJEA contributed to the “clerical error” in rushing to complete a revised application.
In the end, Christie embarrassed himself with his tirade. While it was good theater, he came away looking too eager to cast aspersions before he had all the facts. None of it stands to improve education in New Jersey.