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.
Photo credit: veni markovski via Creative Commons