Two different reporters called me yesterday about Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark schools. They asked if private dollars can substitue for public dollars in our schools. It is clear that they don’t understand how much money it takes to run our schools. Or how fickle donors are. Let’s start with the second issue.

Donors can change their minds and take the money back. Look at what is happening in DC with the Gates and Broad support. In the early days of takeover in Paterson, a corporation adopted School 4. They promised that if the then 6th graders graduated from high school, they would pay for college. And they donated computers and summer camp. It was inspiring.  And it lasted one year until the company was sold.  The new owners repudiated all the promises that had been made. Similarly, there is no surety that the Zuckerberg gift will come to fruition. It will take a while to spend out that $100 million. What if he catches a new enthusiasm?

Now let’s talk about what $100 million can buy.

1. It could pay for one year’s budget for 4 of Newark’s ten high schools.

2. It could pay for 3 new school facilities- unless the SDA builds for you, then you might only get 1 1/2 schools.

3. It could pay for 100 preschools for one year.

Get the picture? It’s not so much money when you talk about the things we need to do EVERY year for ALL the kids.

Could such a gift be used to pilot a new program? Help evaluate current programs for effectiveness? Extend services for a limited period of time? Fix an outdated data system? Yes.

But it’s not the silver bullet. And it will never substitute for sustained public support.