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