Is Zuckerberg spending his $100 million wisely?
Here's my dumb (and perhaps uncharitable) question about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million donation to Newark schools, announced with great fanfare on Oprah on Friday. Newark famously spends more money per pupil than just about any district in the country -- $22,000, versus $10,800 nationally. So it can't be that money is the answer to what ails Newark's schools. To be sure, I know that philanthropy can be critical to help fund reforms during the transition from old, bad ways of doing things to newer, smarter ways. Foundation funding has been central, for example, to Michelle Rhee's plans to test much higher teacher salaries in exchange for greater professionalism in the District, even though Washington has been, like Newark, a poster boy for the notion that vast gobs of cash disappear in urban school bureaucracies without a trace. I'm also a big fan of both Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and I'm thus ready to stipulate that any education initiative they're behind is probably worth supporting.
Still, given how rich Newark's funding is already, I can't help wishing the California-based Zuckerberg had looked for opportunities to fund cash-starved school innovations closer to home. In Los Angeles, for example, where the legacy of prop 13 has left per pupil funding around $9,000, great charter school operators such as Green Dot schools are given only $7,800 per pupil -- barely more than a third of the resources Newark already enjoys. Yet Green Dot is transforming lives for thousands of poor kids, and with Zuckerberg-scale help they could offer lifelines to thousands more. If, as the trailer for "The Social Network" quips, "you can’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies," it's probably also true that you can't give away hundreds of millions without making a few mistakes. Here's hoping Zuckerberg is open to learning more about where his cash for schools might make an even bigger difference.
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