Pershing Square Donates $25 Mil to Zuck Match Grant
The original article appeared in the Wall Street Journal and can be reached here.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker is expected to announce Monday that he has raised $40 million of the $100 million needed to match a grant put forth last week by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help Newark schoolchildren.
One major boost is from the Pershing Square Foundation, started by New York investor William Ackman, which pledged $25 million in recent days.
On Friday, Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Mr. Zuckerberg’s $100 million challenge grant on Oprah Winfrey’s television show, as well as Mr. Booker’s intent to raise another $100 million. Mr. Christie controls Newark schools but has made Mr. Booker his point person on its turnaround plan.
“I’m so encouraged…by the level of support we’ve seen this early,” Mr. Booker said in an interview Sunday.
The mayor, who plans to announce how much he has raised at an education conference in New York, has been calling on potential investors to explain why they should give.
A person close to the contributions said other new donors include billionaire Bill Gates and the founders of New York investment firm Eagle Capital Management, Beth and Ravenel Curry.
The contributors come from as far away as San Francisco. “We’re honored to join this effort with our pledge of support,” said John Doerr, a founder of the NewSchools Venture Fund, which supports entrepreneurial educational programs around the country and has pledged to support Mr. Booker’s efforts with an undisclosed amount. Mr. Doerr is a partner at the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Mr. Ackman said in an interview Sunday his pledge represents a belief that the problems in the Newark school system “are fixable within a reasonable period of time.” Mr. Ackman, who runs Pershing Square Capital Management, met Mr. Booker before his first mayoral run in 2002 (Mr. Booker lost) and has contributed to his campaigns since then.
No decisions have been made about what exactly the $200 million would be used for in a district that is spending $940 million this year. About half of Newark’s 40,000 students don’t graduate, and more than 85% of graduates who attend a local community college need remedial help in math and English. Only a fifth of Newark graduates enroll in four-year institutions. The district is one of the highest-spenders in the country, at $22,000 a year per student.
Mr. Booker emphasized that the first order of business will be to launch a comprehensive community-outreach program to engage the residents of Newark about what they view as the problems with schools and allow them to influence the potential solutions. During a weekend press conference, he said that effort will include showing residents teachers’ contracts that have been hammered out in other cities. “Let’s let Newarkers see what the possibilities are,” he said.
Mr. Booker singled out several contracts, including that signed in Washington, D.C., where teachers who can demonstrate that their students make progress earn more, while teachers who can’t might lose their jobs. The president of the Newark Teachers Union, Joseph Del Grosso, has expressed openness to merit pay tied to student progress, but he has had a strained relationship with Mr. Booker.
At the press conference, Mr. Christie had harsh words for the teachers union—though he didn’t specify whether he was talking about the Newark union, a local of the American Federation of Teachers, or the umbrella group that represents most New Jersey teachers, the New Jersey Education Association.
“We’re about yes, they’re about no,” he said. “We’re about tomorrow, they’re about yesterday. We’re about the kids, they’re about their paychecks.”
In a statement, Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said it was “really disappointing at a time when we need to come together for our kids, Gov. Christie has arrived at a conclusion without ever having a conversation with me.”
Ms. Weingarten is likely to play a major role in any attempt to significantly change the Newark teachers contract, which expired this summer. Ms. Weingarten said that “despite repeated requests,” the governor has never met with Mr. Del Grosso. She added that “teachers come to the issue of school reform in Newark with high hopes, open minds and good ideas.”
Mr. Zuckerberg’s $100 million would be managed through a foundation he is starting, while the money that Mr. Booker is raising would be managed through a separate foundation whose board members would likely be the largest contributors.
“The people who are investing this money in Newark have high expectations and they are performance-driven people,” said Whitney Tilson, a Pershing Square Foundation board member who will be Mr. Ackman’s representative on the board. “We will look to fund programs that have demonstrated proven effectiveness in raising student achievement.”
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