Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg will donate $100 million to assist schools in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, under a plan he announced today on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Zuckerberg, 26, will make the donation as a challenge grant issued by his newly created Startup: Education Foundation, he said today on the television program. Zuckerberg, listed as the 35th richest person in the U.S. by Forbes magazine, announced the gift alongside Republican Governor Chris Christie and the city’s Democratic mayor, Cory Booker.
“Every child deserves a great education, and right now that’s not happening,” said Zuckerberg, whose company owns the world’s biggest social network. “Running a company, the main thing I do is find great people and invest in them. That’s really what we’re doing here.”
The district, with about 39,000 students, has been under state control since 1995. Christie will give Booker a larger role in running the schools, and the mayor will also get a major say in picking a new superintendent, the governor said.
“What I’m committing to is changing schools in the city where I was born,” said Christie, 48, who also said failing schools deprive children of hope and lead to drug abuse and crime. “It’s an obscenity that we’ve robbed them of their education.”
Booker, 41, a Rhodes scholar in his second term, said the city is raising matching funds. Newark plans to use the money to support teachers, increase accountability and promote charter schools, he said.
“We’ve been talking for some time about trying to create a new paradigm for education,” Booker said on the show. “That’s what we want to do. If we as a nation keeping pulling to the left and right, we’ll never move forward.”
The grant announcement comes the same day as the opening of David Fincher’s movie about the founding of Facebook, “The Social Network,” which is being screened tonight at the New York Film Festival. Written by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin, the film portrays Zuckerberg as someone who betrayed his friends to create Facebook, according to advance reviews.
It also coincides with the opening of another film, “Waiting for Superman,” a documentary by Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim about the crisis in U.S. public education.
Zuckerberg initiated contact with the U.S. Department of Education after talking to Booker, said Arne Duncan, secretary for the department. Zuckerberg selected Newark because he thought he could make a difference there, Duncan said.
“You can’t have a great city without a great school system,” Duncan said. “If Mark is just investing in the status quo it won’t go very far. If Mark is investing in a radically different vision of what’s possible, Newark can emerge as a great public school system.”
About 1 in 4 residents of Newark, a city of about 280,000, live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Booker has proposed firing as many as 350 police and firefighters and another 600 city employees in the face of a deficit of as much as $83 million. The city’s annual education budget is about $940 million, according to the school district website.
Of the 164 chronically failing public schools in New Jersey, 38 are in Newark, according to Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone. The group, which Booker co-founded, defines such schools as those where 40 percent or more of the students fail state math and language tests for two years, or 65 percent fail either test.
Zuckerberg is tied for No. 35 on the 2010 list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, according to the Forbes ranking. His wealth jumped 245 percent to $6.9 billion, the largest percentage increase on the annual list, the magazine said.
A former resident of Dobbs Ferry, New York, he started Facebook in 2004 in his Harvard University dorm room. The service has grown to more than 500 million members and is valued at $26.3 billion on SharesPost Inc., a marketplace for closely held companies.