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Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 11/03/2011

How Zuckerberg’s money is being spent in Newark schools

Some of the $100 million that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated last year to help Newark Public Schools has now been spent, and you may be surprised to see where it is going.

The Zuckerberg cash, plus $48 million more donated by other philanthropists, went to a newly created nonprofit organization called the Foundation for Newark’s Future, which was created by Mayor Cory Booker to both find matching funds for the Facebook gift and make decisions about who gets the money in grants.

According to this story in the Newark Star-Ledger, records obtained by the Education Law Center in Newark show that of the first $13 million spent out of the total $148 million donated, about a third has been been spent since September 2010 to pay political and educational consultants and contractors. And there’s more:

Most of that money has gone to people and organizations that have connections to Booker, as well as to New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, according to the newspaper.

The Star-Ledger quotes foundation director Greg Taylor as defending the payments to the consultants, saying that they were necessary costs related to setting up the new foundation and that they went to people who had extensive experience.

More than half of the $13 million — $7.4 million — went to school-based programs that have funded a number of reform efforts, including extending the school day and professional development for teachers and principals.

But the newspaper reported that the single biggest grant given so far was the $1.9 million that went to Global Education Advisors. That’s a consulting firm that Cerf started but separated from before he became acting education commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie (R) late last year. Cerf was quoted as saying he has no involvement in the work the company is doing for the foundation.

One of the consultants who reportedly received money from the foundation is De’Shawn Wright, who is now the deputy mayor for education in Washington D.C. He earned $94,500 as a consultant before taking the D.C. job.

Other reported recipients of grant money include Teach for America and New Leaders for New Schools, each of which received $500,000. Newark Public Schools received a direct grant of $950,000 for a call center and audit, the newspaper said.

If you have started wondering how — and whether — this money will have a lasting effect on Newark Public Schools, you aren’t the only one.

Thousands of Newark residents have expressed concern at school board meetings, according to this story by NPR , that the corporate-based approach to school reform embraced by Booker won’t much help schools. They have also raised the question of whether private funders have too much influence in decisions about public education.

Here is a list of those on the foundation’s Board of Trustees, from the organization’s Web site:

* Paul Bernstein, chief executive officer of the Pershing Square Foundation, which makes grants to entrepreneurial leaders who facilitate problem solving and change in the areas of education, global health care, human rights, poverty alleviation and threats.

* Enrico Gaglioti, head of equity sales in North America for Goldman Sachs.

* Jen Holleran, executive director of Start Up: Education — Zuckerberg’s foundation — and an educator with more than two decades of experience.

* Booker, who is serving his second term as mayor of Newark.

* Whitney Tilson, founder and managing partner of T2 Partners LLC and the Tilson Mutual Funds, vice chairman of KIPP Academy Charter Schools, co-founder of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and a director of Democrats for Education Reform.

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By  |  04:00 AM ET, 11/03/2011

 
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