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NJ Parents Sue Newark Over $100 Million Facebook Donation

NJ Parents Sue Newark Over $100 Million Facebook Donation
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Just about a year ago, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave a $100 million gift to the public school system of Newark, New Jersey’s largest, and long troubled, city. Newark’s schools have been under the control of the state government; the city’s students are some of the state’s lowest performing, with about half not graduating from high school and low standardized testing scores. I’ve had a number of students from Newark’s public schools and all have struggled in college classes: It’s not that they lack the ability and motivation, but the education they did (or didn’t) receive while younger often impedes their studies in college. Zuckerberg is originally from West Orange, a well-heeled suburb of Newark.

He announced his gift on the Oprah Winfrey show in the presence of New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Newark mayor Cory Booker and won many accolades. So why are New Jersey’s ACLU and a group of Newark parents suing the city regarding Zuckerberg’s gift?

As the Star-Ledger reports, the ACLU is calling for greater transparency after the city denied an April 5th Open Public Records Act request from a parent advocacy group:

“As parents, as taxpayers and as citizens, we have a need and right to know how the money pledged to Newark’s public schools will ultimately serve Newark’s public school students,” said Laura Baker, the grandmother of a Newark public school student who filed the initial OPRA request on behalf of the Secondary Parents Council, a 30-year-old group of Newark parents and grandparents.

The city called the request “overly broad” and said that Booker was “not acting in his capacity as mayor when he solicited the contribution and that even if he was, his correspondence would be protected by executive privilege.” But Newark residents have plenty of reason to be wary of how officials might be using funds. One reason the state took over the city’s schools was due to waste and mismanagement, including school board members using taxpayer dollars on cars and restaurant meals, notes NPR.

An “exasperated” Booker has said that

…there are no documents, that the group set up to administer Facebook funds has been completely transparent and that the ACLU of New Jersey was using the issue as a publicity stunt.

“The ACLU has not gone after the Prudential Foundation which gives tens of millions of dollars. They’ve not gone after the Victoria Foundation which gives tens of millions of dollars,” Booker said, referring to two philanthropic organizations that give to a variety of causes in Newark, including education. “They’re using Mark Zuckerberg and me to attract publicity to themselves.”

Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU’s state chapter, noted that it seems unlikely that there are no documents about the donation “based on the mayor’s reputation as a prolific texter, e-mailer and tweeter as well as the city’s initial response to the request.” Indeed, Booker has drawn quite a bit of publicity for his regular tweeting, especially during last winter’s snowmaggedon when he used the social media service to help shovel out the city’s streets.

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Photo of Barringer High School in Newark by By Jim.henderson via Wikimedia Commons

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11:51PM PST on Jan 16, 2012

WOW! they are hiding something, it should not be a problem to tell the public what the money is spent on.

10:17AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011

yeah they should tell what they are using it for.

9:58PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

The ACLU will apparently jump on every real or imagined cause in this country unless the benefactors are Christian, caucasian, and heterosexual. They need to quit grandstanding and just do what they need to do.

12:27AM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Thanks for the article.

1:16AM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

Go parents! See where the money is going! You have the right! Rock on ACLU! Hope they win the case.

11:27AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

If your state has strong Sunshine laws then what's the big deal about releasing the information? If your state does not have strong Sunshine laws then you have bigger problems to over come. One thing is for sure even if you get the records that you request schools are notorious at hiding where the money is. They always seem to have miscellaneous spending that tells you absoletly nothing.

10:39AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

That headline is very misleading. Come on reporters, you can do better.

10:26AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

"Four new public high schools"? I don't know about New Jerseys schools but I do know that too many schools are in need of drastic improvements. And won't schools in the east now have to consider earthquake retrofits? This money should go where it apparently was supposed to go --- to existing schools.
But then, this is New Jersey, where the governor thinks it's okay to fly to his son's ball game at the state's expense.

7:40AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

Absolutely people have the right to know exactly where that money has gone - immediately!

6:14AM PDT on Aug 25, 2011

whether the announcement was made public or not, people should be happy, most schools all over the us are closing from lack of money, and that school is getting a lot of it, they should consider themselves lucky

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