Booker to Gain Control Over Newark Public Schools Thanks to Facebook Donation

I feel like this is something out of a joke, but as Richard Pérez Peña reports, Mark Zuckerberg is not only going to give $100 million to the Newark Public School system, that donation is going to drive a substantial overhaul in the school system’s governance:

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and a founder of Facebook, has agreed to donate $100 million to improve the long-troubled public schools in Newark, and Gov. Chris Christie will cede some control of the state-run system to Mayor Cory A. Booker in conjunction with the huge gift, officials said Wednesday.

The three men plan to announce the arrangement on Friday on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The changes would not formally relax the legal power the state seized in 1995, when it declared Newark’s schools a failure and took control of the system, replacing the elected school board with a mostly toothless advisory board. Rather, Mr. Christie plans to give the mayor a major role in choosing a new superintendent and redesigning the system, but to retain the right to take control back.

State takeovers of really dysfunctional school districts can drive improvements just based on the reality that if something is “really dysfunctional” any kind of change might lead to improvement. But generally I think that direct mayoral control aligns the political incentives correctly. If Corey Booker is really in charge of Newark’s schools then the voters can hold him accountable for whether they improve, and if he gets booted then the voters can hold is successor accountable as well. And that’s probably as it should be. Of course from a distance I’d kind of assumed Booker was likely to run against Chris Christie in 2013 which would seem to be made more difficult by the two of them collaborating on a high-profile initiative.


But what I think is really interesting here is Zuckerberg, who’s young to be getting into the “giving it away” portion of his life and also being kind of idiosyncratic about what cause he’s supporting. Both seem worthy of applauding to me. There’s a lot that can be said or not said about the wisdom or lack thereof of a specific policy crackdown on the super-rich, but there’s also just the separate point that billionaires have a moral obligation to give that money away and find ways of doing so that help people. People generally find the “with great power comes great responsibility” message of Spider-Man to be pretty intuitive. But we don’t have anyone in the world today bitten by radioactive bugs and blessed with the proportional strength of a spider. We do have people who through a combination of luck and skill stumbled into fortunes worth well over 10,000 times the average household income and those people have an obligation, morally speaking, to do something useful with that money and not just throw lavish birthday parties.