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NJ's Plan for Federal School Funds Needs Approval

Will Christie administration’s proposal on how to distribute $268 million in aid get Washington’s OK?

Hoping for the federal government’s approval, the Christie administration is proposing to divide up $268 million in late-summer federal relief for schools along the same lines as the state aid cuts the districts have endured, officials said.

Uniformly applied, that could mean as much as a quarter of each district’s lost state aid could be restored for specific classroom jobs.

Districts were cut roughly 5 percent of their budgets, or $1.1 billion statewide. Federal estimates have said as many as 3,900 school jobs could be restored in New Jersey.

But now it’s up to the federal government to decide whether that will be allowed.

Gov. Chris Christie’s spokesman said yesterday that the state is still waiting word from Washington on whether it can distribute the aid along those lines, deviating from the criteria laid out in the jobs relief law.

Under the law, states may only distribute the money using their prevailing state aid formulas or through the federal Title I program that steers additional money on the basis of schools’ low-income students.

“We want to do it on a prorated basis with their cuts,” said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak yesterday. “We felt it was fair the way we made the cuts, and this is a fair way to return them.”

Questions as to how and when the money will be distributed have drawn complaints from state Democrats and the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union that has proved arguably Christie’s biggest nemesis.

“It is an affront to every unemployed person in the state that the Governor cares so little about helping get people back to work,” read a statement from NJEA President Barbara Keshishian. “And it is even worse, because he’s also denying students across the state a better education.”

Drewniak called the complaint “NJEA nonsense,” saying the state would apply in time for the Sept. 9 deadline and that the money would be distributed in turn with every other state’s. He contested the claim that applying early would bring the money any quicker.

“It is a non-competitive grant, and there is a deadline that we will meet,” he said.

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