Democrats Call for More Transparency With Distribution of Education Bond Funds

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

Some Democratic legislators were offended this month when Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks wouldn’t discuss the particulars of how more than a billion dollars was divvied up among state colleges and universities.

The monies were from last fall’s successful bond issue referendum.

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver in a letter to Gov. Chris Christie wrote, “For the Administration to suggest to the Legislature and the public that the manner in which these funds were allocated is not information we are entitled to have is as bewildering as it is unacceptable.”

Besides transparency, what concerns these Democrats is that a yeshiva in Lakewood was awarded $10.6 million and Princeton Theological Seminary got $645,000, raising questions about separation of church and state.

Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan joined Oliver in sponsoring a resolution requiring that the entire allocation process be redone.

“The award to the Lakewood rabbinical school just jumps off the page. There are so many questions about whether in fact that is an institution of higher education is appropriate for the funding but the most disturbing aspect, Michael, is the administration is just stonewalling,” Diegnan said.

Christie yesterday said the Democrats have been invited to look at the documents in private and that Speaker Oliver was playing politics.

“If she wants to see the applications, she’s more than happy to see them,” Christie said.

Christie noted that students at Beth Medrash Govoha, the Lakewood yeshiva, routinely got state tuition assistance.

“But I find this kind of interesting. The speaker is one of the biggest proponents for the TAG grant program in the state,” Christie said. “From 2000 to 2012, the Beth Medrash Govoha has gotten $46 million in TAG grants. That’s state money. And the speaker has never raised an objection to that.”

Oliver replied: “If in fact we have awarded $46 million to students who have used those funds to pay for tuition in the pursuit of a theological or divinity degree, then both the secretary of higher education and the officials at the New Jersey Higher Education Assistance Authority have some explaining to do.”

“I must commend the governor for always changing the topic. The issue before us right now is, and any reasonable person in the state would say this was not what the voters intended,” Diegnan said. “At the very least the governor should direct his staff to be transparent about it.”

The Diegnan-Oliver resolution is likely to die in the Senate.