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Are Newark Schools For Sale? Booker Reveals Donations Of $143 Million So Far

Are Newark Schools For Sale? Booker Reveals Donations Of $143 Million So Far

Last September, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his debut as the latest high-profile education philanthropist by announcing a gift of $100 million to the Newark schools on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The challenge grant was to be matched by additional fundraising and distributed over the next five years by his new foundation, Startup: Education.

So far, donors have contributed $43 million toward matching Zuckerberg’s gift to the city’s troubled school system last fall, Newark Mayor Cory Booker tells the Star-Ledger.

Another $43 Million In Addition To Zuckerberg’s Money

The donations so far:

    •    $25 million from New York investor William Ackman, head of the Pershing Square Foundation
    •    $10 million from venture capitalist John Doerr, a founder of the NewSchools Venture Fund
    •    $5 million from Elizabeth and Ravenel Curry, founders of the New York investment firm Eagle Capital Management
    •    $3 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

How Is The Money Being Used?

The disclosure comes amid a week of questions about just how the money is being used and in what amounts.

The Star-Ledger reveals that it also comes days after revelations of acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf’s relationship with a consulting firm hired by Booker to audit Newark schools. The firm, Global Education Advisors, produced a controversial plan to close or consolidate low-performing, under-enrolled schools and provide space for charter and new high schools.

From The Star-Ledger:

“There is no hiding going on here with the Zuckerberg grant/Match,” Booker wrote in an e-mail.

“I am still working to get donors on board and we hope to have a full announcement in the future.”

While Booker has previously given estimates about money raised, he has never disclosed the total sum or specific amounts from each donor.

But the potential influx of hundreds of millions of dollars into Newark’s public schools has political and education leaders calling for greater oversight of the donations and how they are spent.

“I know the mayor’s heart is in the right place, but the need for greater transparency should be obvious” Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) said.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who sits on the committee that will rule on Cerf’s nomination, said the growing trend of private dollars being spent on public schools will likely require new legislation to govern its use.

 

Need For Oversight

We are increasingly a country of a few, very wealthy people at the top, and some of those billionaires are using some of their burgeoning funds to seek to control our educational system.

This is an opportune time for such leverage, because school systems starved of public revenues are desperate for dollars, and are willing to embrace changes offered by billionaire “reformers.”

The Gates Foundation is a case in point, having achieved unprecedented influence at the Department of Education through numerous high level appointments.

The Gates Agenda

However, some education experts fear that the Gates agenda, and other similar ones, is one driven by an ideology that sees competition and economic incentives as the driving force that moves us ahead as a nation, and that this force should also be paramount in the way education is run.

Take Education Secretary Duncan’s design of the Race to the Top initiative, created along competitive lines, so that states needed to come up with proposals incorporating as many new “reform” elements as possible. Florida led the pack, creating a plan that would tie at least half of teacher pay and evaluations to test score results.

Education Should Not Be A Business

Teachers point out that education is not a business, and teachers are not car salesmen. And the very real fear of philanthropists donating large sums of money is that their “gifts” will come with too many strings attached.

Let’s hope that New Jersey State Senator Weinberg ensures that new legislation is enacted to deal with the growing trend of private dollars being spent on public schools.

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Photo credit: veni markovski via Creative Commons

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28 comments

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10:24AM PDT on May 29, 2011

If it will help the education of our students --YES!!!!! take the money and run with it. There should be no strings attached except that the money be used in the classrooms not for administrative research committees.

8:19PM PDT on Mar 19, 2011

Gracias!

4:34AM PST on Mar 6, 2011

All they had---------------------- to do was fund no child left behind and they wouldn't. All this other stuff is an experiment that will lead them right back to public schools with teachers. Since when does a laptop take the place of a teacher. Politicians lie and sell themselves to the highest bidder. America is not broke. America has mega monies. America has been sold to the highest bidder. President Obama was/is the drum major. Some man had his ear, they demonized the teachers and now the whisperer is making out like a bandit, while the teachers are under assault. It wasn't right. They are going to see it before too long. It's something how this government wants to make people have babies. (replicons) Guess they have to have someone in these million dollar schools. I forgot Cory's governor is chris christie that explains it.

4:33AM PST on Mar 6, 2011

All they had---------------------- to do was fund no child left behind and they wouldn't. All this other stuff is an experiment that will lead them right back to public schools with teachers. Since when does a laptop take the place of a teacher. Politicians lie and sell themselves to the highest bidder. America is not broke. America has mega monies. America has been sold to the highest bidder. President Obama was/is the drum major. Some man had his ear, they demonized the teachers and now the whisperer is making out like a bandit, while the teachers are under assault. It wasn't right. They are going to see it before too long. It's something how this government wants to make people have babies. (replicons) Guess they have to have someone in these million dollar schools. I forgot Cory's governor is chris christie that explains it.

4:31AM PST on Mar 6, 2011

All they had---------------------- to do was fund no child left behind and they wouldn't. All this other stuff is an experiment that will lead them right back to public schools with teachers. Since when does a laptop take the place of a teacher. Politicians lie and sell themselves to the highest bidder. America is not broke. America has mega monies. America has been sold to the highest bidder. President Obama was/is the drum major. Some man had his ear, they demonized the teachers and now the whisperer is making out like a bandit, while the teachers are under assault. It wasn't right. They are going to see it before too long. It's something how this government wants to make people have babies. (replicons) Guess they have to have someone in these million dollar schools.

8:15AM PST on Mar 4, 2011

As long as there are no strings attached - go ahead and give schools money.

Here in Wisconsin we will be losing $800 million if Walker's bill goes through. He is working to increase the gap even further between rich and poor. He wants to give more tools for the rich to improve their education and leave all the middle class and poor folks behind.

So much for no child left behind

8:07PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

In the US today everything is for sale.

5:54PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

transparency is always good, but sometimes you have to trust. i trust cory booker... period.

2:49PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

I say "Bravo Booker!" The man could be doing anything but he chooses to stick with his job as Mayor. He spoke at my son's college commencement (California). Incredibly moving and inspirational. Look up his credentials and the award winning documentary about him and what he is trying to accomplish in Newark. Mighty impressive. I have no doubt his heart and his head is in the right place. Would people rather see our educational system collapse or see some big bucks thrown at it from some well meaning donors? The Gates Foundation has been alive and well and doing great things in my part of the country for years. Something the schools cannot afford to do. Yes, there is a potential for corruption especially if politicians get involved in it. I wish some of that money could come to Idaho and save our schools from what Governor Butch Otter, state legislators and director of ed. Tom Luna is trying to do! Eliminate 770 teaching positions, increase class sizes and require every 9th grader be given a laptop for online courses instead as well as some other choice plans for reform. I completely agree there needs to be changes but this is craziness. Role models, who needs them? What's hinky here is that Luna received substantial donations for his campaign from k12.com, an online education company. Our government at it's best. Sorry, I digress.

2:35PM PST on Mar 3, 2011

Wow, great article.

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