New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators criticized the Christie and Rendell administrations on Monday for their states' failures to win federal aid for charter school start-ups.

New Jersey's rejected grant application, reported Monday in The Inquirer, "is beyond disappointing and another major setback for [the] education system under Gov. Christie," said state Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D., Essex).

Oliver and Assembly Education Chairman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D., Middlesex) have demanded an accounting from the administration.

In Pennsylvania, Jeffrey E. Piccola (R., Dauphin), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the failure of his state's application showed Gov. Rendell had not made school choice a priority.

Also on Monday, the Center for Education Reform released its annual report card on charter-school laws. New Jersey received a grade of C, falling from 17th to 19th place in a ranking of 41 states and Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania scored a B. Its rank dropped from 11th to 12th place.

Deficiencies such as having only the state Department of Education authorized to approve charter applications hurt the Garden State's chance for the federal money, said Carlos Perez, chief officer of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association. It also was a factor in the state's C rating, according to the report.

New Jersey had sought $14 million and Pennsylvania had applied for $30 million, each to be used over three years. They were notified over the summer that they had not scored enough points to qualify.

Both states also twice failed to win federal Race to the Top grants, which would have garnered them up to $400 million each.

Piccola said he hoped Pennsylvania's charters would fare better under Republican Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, an advocate for school choice.

"I remain hopeful that a new administration and a new, pro-charter governor will allow Pennsylvania to make great strides in breaking the public-school monopoly and giving parents the opportunity to choose the best school for their child," he said Monday.

A bill that would grant Rutgers University the power to approve charters and limit review time for charter applications to five months is under consideration in Trenton.

"It's critical that we pass this legislation so New Jersey will be in a better position when it applies for this funding in the future," Perez said.

New Jersey Education Department spokesman Alan Guenther defended the administration's support of charters.

While not getting the federal start-up grant was disappointing, Guenther said, "we expect that the proactive reforms being pursued by Gov. Christie and acting Commissioner [Rochelle] Hendricks will result in a dramatic increase in the number of new charter schools in New Jersey and yield a positive outcome in future funding applications."

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or