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A $100 million donation or PR ploy?

Marketplace Staff Sep 23, 2010

A $100 million donation or PR ploy?

Marketplace Staff Sep 23, 2010


Bob Moon: There’s been a shake-up in the ranks of the country’s billionaires. The founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has moved ahead of Apple founder Steve Jobs on the Forbes list of richest Americans. The magazine puts Zuckerberg at Number 35.

And apparently, he can spare some of his nearly $7 billion fortune. There’s word today the 26-year-old Web mogul plans to give a big check to the public schools in Newark, N.J.

Our education correspondent Amy Scott joins us now from WYPR in Baltimore. Hey, Amy.

Amy Scott: Hi Bob.

Moon: What I’ve heard about this seems a little unusual from the get-go, starting with this announcement being made on “Oprah” tomorrow.

Scott: That’s right. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office confirmed that the governor and Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Mark Zuckerberg will all be on the show together tomorrow. And reports say that they’re going to announce that Zuckerberg is giving $100 million to the Newark public schools. And for a district with a $940 million budget, that’s just a huge amount of money.

Moon: The other curious thing about this gift is that there are some strings attached. What’s he asking for in exchange?

Scott: Well, we don’t have a lot of detail until the announcement tomorrow. But the New York Times reports that part of the deal is that Gov. Christie will give some control of the schools to the mayor, Cory Booker. The Newark schools are notoriously troubled and they’ve been under state control since 1995, and by many accounts, that hasn’t solved their problems at all. Booker and Zuckerberg reportedly met at a conference this summer, and one thing led to another. A lot of urban school districts in cities like Chicago and New York are trying this approach of turning over the schools to the mayor, and it looks like this may be some version of that.

Moon: But what about all this private money flowing into public education. Is that a good thing?

Scott: Right. You know, the Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars into school districts. The Broad Foundation is another funder. And that money always comes with some stipulations. I talked today with Brian Hayes with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, which is another group doing work with the Newark schools. He says these public-private partnerships always raise some questions.

Brian Hayes: I think whenever large sums of money are gifted to public school districts, it’s just absolutely crucial that all voices are at the table, not simply political voices who have agendas, but also instructional leaders who know what’s best for kids.

Scott: You know, that said, people like Hayes have been pretty euphoric today. New Jersey, of course, recently lost out on a big pot of federal money from that Race to the Top competition due to a clerical error. They lost $400 million. They’ve also had major state budget cuts for schools, so this was pretty welcome news.

Moon: Well, maybe this is just the cynical reporter in me, but I have to ask you about the timing of this coming on the same day that that unflattering movie about Mr. Zuckerberg is premiering in New York, “The Social Network.”

Scott: He apparently doesn’t come off so well in this movie. You know, charity is certainly one response to bad PR, but you know, this guy has almost $7 billion to his name. So you can argue that he doesn’t really need the money. I would’ve asked him, but he didn’t answer my friend request.

Moon laughs

Moon: I wonder why. Our education correspondent Amy Scott. Thanks for joining us.

Scott: You’re welcome.

Moon: By the way, Amy mentioned the Gates Foundation. Full disclosure, Marketplace receives funding from that group for education reporting.

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