$100M Zuckerberg Fund for Newark Schools to Sunset

In its fifth and final year, the foundation administering the $100 million gift from Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg to the underperforming public school system in Newark, New Jersey, is focusing on supporting teachers in the classroom, NJ Advance Media reports.

Announced September 2, the latest grant from the Foundation for Newark's Future will provide $100 to every teacher for classroom supplies and $7,500 to every principal for professional development, community initiatives, and parent programming. FNF president and CEO Kimberly Baxter McClain said the $700,000 grant was evidence of its efforts to provide tangible support to those working directly with students, as well as to create a system of school choice and merit-based compensation for teachers. "At the foundation, we do focus a lot on systemic change," said Baxter McClain. "We also focus on efforts on the ground. We believe it takes a combination to really move the district in the right direction."

Much of the attention surrounding the efforts funded by Zuckerberg's gift — announced in 2011 and later matched by other donors — has been focused on the controversial "One Newark" open enrollment system and the growth of charter schools. As of 2014, the district had hired fifty new principals, added four high schools, and consolidated the lowest-performing K-8 schools into "renew schools." Yet problems persist and frustration among school officials, teachers, and parents has grown. Implementation of a teacher contract that ties pay to performance stalled due to a fight between teachers' unions and Superintendent Cami Anderson, who resigned in June. In the past year, the foundation also has supported efforts designed to soften the blow of systemic changes, awarding a $2.7 million grant to launch New Paths Newark, which will provide teachers who have been laid off with tuition assistance, living subsidies, and  incentives to continue their education and pursue new career paths.

Baxter McClain told NJ Advance Media the foundation has approximately $30 million left in its coffers, which it intends to disburse by June 2016, in accordance with Zuckerberg's and other donors'  original five-year plan. "It's a finite initiative," she said. "The idea was to be kind of a philanthropic shot in the arm."

While some programs, including those aimed at improving student literacy, will continue with help from new donors, others will undoubtedly expire without additional funding. Baxter McClain remained hopeful, however, that the organization's impact might still be felt in the schools for years to come. "Some of them may be one-time; that's the reality," she said. "But our hope is that even if some of the programs aren't continued, the conditions that are created and the culture shift will remain in effect beyond our watch."