For the New Jersey State Department of Education, the cost of withholding public information from the public has a steep price tag: $40,290.80.
That’s the total the state paid the Asbury Park Press for its legal fees after a Superior Court judge ruled in July the department violated the state’s Open Public Records Act. The Press sued this year when it was denied full access to a list of schools the department planned to investigate for possibly tampering with state-mandated tests.
The education department had blacked out the school names in its test “erasure analysis” reports for 2008, 2009 and 2010 after the Press requested the full list. An erasure analysis examines patterns in state tests to see if wrong answers are changed to correct answers at a rate that is higher than normal. In other states, teachers and administrators have been caught altering tests as a way to win bonuses and preserve government funding.
The state said it denied the Press access to the records because it planned to eventually investigate the erasures.