Newark, NJ– In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously announced on the Oprah Winfrey Show that he would be donating $100 million to repair the school system in Newark, New Jersey. Zuckerberg then teamed up with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) and the city’s Mayor at the time, Cory Booker, to create a foundation called Startup:Education.
At that time Newark was unquestionably in need of help, as its graduation rate had sunk below 67% and the city was struggling with high crime and poverty rates. Booker and Christie had already been discussing massive educational reform including a goal to make Newark “the charter school capital of the nation.” The foundation created by Zuckerberg, Christie and Booker had the vision of implementing new educational programs to transform the Newark school system into “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation”, according to Zuckerberg.
Some of the stipulations from Zuckerberg included hiring a “transformational leader” as a superintendent and finding donors to match his $100 million. Cami Anderson was appointed by Christie in 2011 and she had attempted different reform methods, including closing twelve of the city’s worst K-8 grade schools and consolidating them into eight “renew schools” that operated similarly to charter schools. Anderson’s latest plan, One Newark, is supposed to allow parents to choose from 55 public and 16 charter schools to send their children. That plan is currently riddled with complications, such as lack of student transportation.
Nearly four years later many are left wondering if any progress in Newark has been made from his gift. According to an in-depth analysis from the New Yorker, most of Zuckerberg’s hundred million dollars “has been spent or committed.” Despite the efforts from Anderson to develop changes inside the schools, a great deal of that money- over $20 million- went to pay consultants for things like public relations, human resources, and communications. Some consultants were being paid about $1,000 per day. Back pay for the teacher’s union and seniority protections were also high, costing additional tens of millions of dollars. “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read,” noted Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County. Newark’s test scores have barely budged, and their educational outlook remains dismal.
Newly elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka opposes the the One Newark plan brought by Anderson, calling it “a dismantling of public education”. The hemorrhage of funds coupled with disputes over what reforms should take place in Newark has contributed to ongoing uncertainty about the city’s educational future.