Says Measure Would Give Public an Opportunity to Review Private Donations, Voice Concerns to Local Education Officials
TRENTON – Senator Ronald L. Rice today announced that he will introduce legislation on Monday which would create a level of transparency and accountability when it comes to private donations to public education in the Garden State.
“If private philanthropists want to invest in the future and make substantial donations to public education in New Jersey, I’m fine with that,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “However, we have to be aware that sometimes, these donations come with strings attached, or come from sources with less-than-stellar reputations. New Jersey residents need to know where the money’s coming from, and what it’s intended for, before their school districts agree to the terms of the donation.”
Senator Rice’s bill would create a fund within the State Department of Education – the “Private Investment in Public Education Fund” – which would serve as a depository for all funds privately donated to school districts that are under partial or full State intervention. Any interest and investment earnings on monies in the fund would also be contained within the fund.
Under the bill, when a school district under full or partial State control receives a donation from a private person or business entity, the district would be required to forward the donation to the Commissioner of Education for deposit into the fund. The school district would be required to post on their Web site the name of the donor, and the intended purpose of the donation. In order to withdraw the funds from the Department of Education account, the superintendent of schools for the district, with the approval of the district board of education, would have to apply to the Commissioner of Education for withdrawal.
“The goal with this legislation is to give the public an opportunity to review these private donations, and to voice any concerns with their local board of education,” said Senator Rice. “In some instances, the intended purpose of donations, or the intended source of donations, might not be in the public’s best interest. We shouldn’t let the current budgetary difficulties facing many school districts today be used as an excuse to devalue the public education of students tomorrow and into the future.”
Senator Rice noted that his bill would be retroactive to any funds received by school districts in New Jersey that have not yet been expended. He said that recent donations to Newark public schools – including a much-publicized $100 million donation from Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, a $3 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a teacher evaluation system, and funds intended for charter schools development that were channeled through a private consulting firm, Global Education Advisors, which was founded by Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf before he was appointed to lead the State Department of Education – leave the public with more questions than answers.
In addition, Senator Rice said that other districts under full or partial State intervention receive private donations in smaller increments than the recent high-profile donations to Newark public schools, and thus receive little media scrutiny. However, the public still has a right to know who’s donating, how much, and why, said Senator Rice.
“At the end of the day, this bill isn’t about individual donations, but about fostering a greater sense of transparency, accountability and oversight of private donations coming into the public education system,” said Senator Rice. “Many of these private donations might be made with the best of intentions, but it’s up to the people to determine whether or not they’re willing to accept private assistance and all the terms and conditions that come with that assistance. This bill would go a long way to empower the people in these school districts to make the best, most-informed decisions they can for themselves, and to avoid donors and donations which might be contrary to the greater public good.”
Senator Rice’s bill is expected to be referenced to the Senate Education Committee.