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Cory Booker’s failed Facebook venture overshadows 2020 announcement

Cory Booker/Twitter

Booker’s already taking heat for a questionable education initiative in Newark.

On Friday morning, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced his bid for the 2020 presidential race. But Booker, a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, is facing renewed scrutiny over his work with the organization that may be 2020’s biggest boogeyman: Facebook. 

I’m running for president. Join me on this journey,” Booker tweeted Friday morning, along with a video urging Americans to “rise” and find common purpose.

Booker has been a rising Democratic star for some time. As mayor of Newark, Booker gained national attention for a decrease in crime and Newark’s downtown revitalization. He also championed education reform, backing charter schools and vouchers for students to attend private and parochial schools.

Which where Facebook comes into play.

Booker is again coming under fire for his poor shepherding of a $100 million donation from Facebook, which included an additional $100 million in matching funds, meant to transform Newark’s public school system.

Dale Rusakoff detailed the shortcomings of the project in a 2014 New Yorker article, as well as in her book The Prize. 

At the time, the donation was heralded as a way to save public education. Newark’s school system had a 54 percent graduation rate in 2010, the year the initiative started, with 90 percent of students who attended college needing remedial classes, according to Rusakoff.

Significant portions of the $200 million Facebook initiative went to consultants. The money was funneled through a foundation, which chose to spend a great deal on buying out underperforming teachers, and the project lacked community buy-in, according to current mayor Ras Baraka.

“There needed to be a discussion with a series of organizations in the city … to talk about the concrete issues and narrow them down to specific things they could’ve impacted over a long period of time,” he told Business Insider.

Over $60 million of it went to charter school, with Zuckerburg himself suggesting Newark close schools that weren’t up to par. Attendance counselors were removed from schools over budget concerns. 

“The donation didn’t go to the city, and it didn’t go to the school system either. It went to a foundation that made decisions about what the money should be spent on,” Baraka said recently.

Though the donation was widely viewed as squandered, some studies have pointed out that there have been improvements in Newark’s enrollment and graduation rates, as well as an increase in English competency.

Booker is just the latest candidate to enter the crowded 2020 field that already features Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Ellen Ioanes

Ellen Ioanes

Ellen Ioanes is the FOIA reporter at the Daily Dot, where she covers U.S. politics. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Center for Public Integrity, HuffPost India, and more.