Sep 23, 2010 4:47 PM
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is about to
make a lot of new friends: The 26-year-old tycoon is pouring $100
million of his staggering fortune into Newark's blighted school
system after hitting it off with the mayor of the poverty-stricken
The donation - which is being announced Friday on Oprah
Winfrey's show - instantly establishes Zuckerberg as one of
high-tech's biggest philanthropists and comes just ahead of the
release of "The Social Network," a movie that paints an
unflattering portrait of the boy wonder of the Internet.
The arrangement brings together the young entrepreneur, Newark's
celebrated Democratic mayor and a governor who has become a star of
the Republican Party. And it underscores how the remaking of the
nation's urban schools has become a popular cause among young
"What you're seeing is for the under-40 set, education reform
is what feeding kids in Africa was in 1980," said Derrell
Bradford, executive director of the Newark-based education reform
group Excellent Education for Everyone. "Newark public schools are
like the new Live Aid."
Last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced $290
million in education grants, including $100 million for the school
system in Tampa, Fla., and $90 million for the Memphis, Tenn.,
district. The Gates Foundation also has given more than $150
million to New York City schools over the past eight years.
Exactly how Zuckerberg's donation will be used in Newark - a
school system with about 40,000 students and a budget this year of
$940 million - has not been disclosed.
The district has been plagued for years by low test scores, poor
graduation rates and crumbling buildings, and was taken over by the
state in 1995 after instances of waste and mismanagement, including
the spending of taxpayer money by school board members on cars and
Zuckerberg grew up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., graduated from Phillips
Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 2002 and attended Harvard before
dropping out to work full time on Facebook. He has no connection to
Newark other than knowing Mayor Cory Booker, a charismatic
41-year-old politician who has the ear of President Barack Obama
and has helped the city get major donations from Winfrey and New
Jersey's Jon Bon Jovi.
According to The New York Times, Zuckerberg and Booker met at a
conference over the summer and kept in touch.
The donation was first reported Wednesday night by The
Star-Ledger of Newark. An official familiar with the plan confirmed
it to The Associated Press on Thursday. The official spoke on
condition of anonymity because those involved were told not to
steal the thunder from Winfrey's show.
But that didn't stop Gov. Chris Christie and Booker from hinting
about it on their Twitter accounts. Booker tweeted: "Looking
forward to Oprah on Friday! Please tune in to learn more about
what's going on in Newark." Christie replied, "See you in
Chicago," adding: "Great things to come for education in
Zuckerberg is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 35th wealthiest
American, with a net worth of $6.9 billion. That makes him richer
than Apple's Steve Jobs and News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch. Facebook
has 500 million users and is valued by Forbes at $23 billion.
Some suggested that altruism was not the only thing behind the
The announcement comes a week before "The Social Network"
opens widely. The movie, whose tagline is "You don't get to 500
million friends without making a few enemies," portrays Zuckerberg
as taking the idea for Facebook from other Harvard students.
"I hate to be cynical and there are few districts in the nation
that couldn't use an infusion of cash more than Newark," wrote
blogger Christopher Dawson on ZDNet, a website devoted to
technology news and commentary. But the timing of the announcement,
"on Oprah no less, feels a little too staged."
Forbes.com asked readers: "Was the gift heartfelt or cunning
According to the official with knowledge of the deal, Christie
won't give up state control of Newark's schools but will authorize
Booker to carry out the education plan. Christie can still veto any
Christie, like Booker, is an advocate of more publicly funded
charter schools, using public money to send children to private
schools and paying teachers partly according to how well students
perform. Those ideas often make teachers unions bristle, though
union officials in Newark declined to comment on the donation.
In Newark, people were excited about the gift, which The Wall
Street Journal reported will be in the form of Facebook stock that
can be sold on private exchanges and can be hard put a value on.
Facebook is not publicly traded.
"There's a lot of programs out here, but at the same time, a
lot of the time these kids have nothing to do. They're getting the
worst books - old everything - so maybe the money will help out.
It's possible that everything could be updated if we all pool
together," said city resident Carse Lucas.
For Christie, the deal may be a way to recover from the biggest
misstep of his administration so far: Last month, the state missed
out on a $400 million federal education grant because of a simple
error on its application. Christie fired the state's education
commissioner in the aftermath.
Education scholars and advocates will be watching closely.
"Just throwing a lot of money at a problem doesn't necessarily
solve anything, and I think past history demonstrates this," said
Joseph DePeirro, dean of education at Seton Hall University.
Bradford, of the Newark-based education reform group, said: "If
you are enormously successful, then you really have outlined a
model of how you can use private philanthropy to break the status
quo. And if you fail, you've given everybody a billion reasons
never to try again."
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