Newark Mayor Secures $40 Million to Match Zuckerberg Gift

Newark mayor Cory Booker has raised $40 million of the $100 million needed to match a gift from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to support the Newark public school system, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Announced by Zuckerberg, Booker, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie last Friday on the "Oprah Winfrey Show," the gift from Zuckerberg will be used to launch Startup: Education, a foundation dedicated in the short term to supporting Booker's efforts to turn around Newark's failing schools. Eventually the foundation, which will be led by former New Leaders for New Schools director Jennifer Holleran, will support reform efforts in other communities, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

Funds received to match Zuckerberg's gift include $25 million from the Pershing Square Foundation, which was launched by New York City investor William Ackman, and a total of $15 million from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Bill Gates, and Beth and Ravenel Curry, the founders of investment firm Eagle Capital Management.

Few decisions have been made about how the $200 million will be used by the district, whose operating budget is $940 million this year, or roughly $22,000 per student, making it one of the highest-spending school systems in the country. About half the city's 40,000 students do not graduate, more than 85 percent of those who do graduate and attend local community colleges need remedial help in math and English, and only a fifth of those who graduate enroll in four-year colleges or universities.

Booker emphasized that the first order of business will be to launch a community-outreach program designed to engage Newark residents in a wide-ranging discussion of the system's problems. He also said the effort will include informing residents about teacher contracts that have been hammered out in other cities. "Let's let Newarkers see what the possibilities are," Booker told the Journal. "I'm so encouraged...by the level of support we've seen this early."

Barbara Martinez. "Newark's Mayor Woos Schools Backers." Wall Street Journal 09/28/2010. Jessica Calefati. "Facebook CEO Names Head of Foundation Working With Newark Schools." Newark Star-Ledger 09/25/2010.