Sunday, September 26, 2010

$100 Million in 'Red Meat' For Moderates

N.J. Gov. Christie, Newark Mayor Booker, appear on Oprah to announce Facebook's $100 million donation

On multiple levels, I am fascinated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the Newark, N.J., school system:
  1. The size of Zuckerberg's generosity is the equal of Walter Annenberg's 1993 gift to the Peddie School, which at that time was the largest donation ever to a independent secondary school.
  2. The structuring of the gift is smart. It's a challenge grant to encourage others of means to step up and make leadership gifts.
  3. It's engendered lots of bipartisan support, with both Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker coming on board to publicize the gift. I really like both of these men — and I tend to hate politicians. Consistent with the subtitle of this blog, the imprimatur of Booker and Christie is "red meat for mushy moderates."
  4. The timing of the gift in advance of an unflattering film about the young billionaire does raise questions.
But I'm also amazed by what I don't know. Where is the plan for how this money is going to be spent? In the coverage I have read and seen so far, there has been no mention of a course of action, beyond the setting up of a foundation that will "fund exciting new programs." Does anyone else think that's kind of strange?

Look, there must be a detailed gift agreement somewhere but there has been little public discussion about how the money will be used. At the same time, there has been lots of talk about "accountability" on the part of students, teachers and parents.

I am assuming Zuckerberg, who has no connection with Newark beyond his admiration for Booker and Christie, is way too smart to just give money away without thinking it through. Still, you'd have to wonder how much of it will be wasted in a school system that was seized by the state in the 1990s and already spends $22,000 per pupil with only half its students ever graduating. Plus, there could be legal problems associated with giving the mayor so much power over the school district.

While I applaud the man's generosity, it is hard to see how this money will have a major impact in one of the nation's poorest cities unless parents and families sending their kids to Newark's schools are willing to make education a priority, stay on top of their children's affairs and set a positive example for impressionable young minds.

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