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Legal Questions Cloud Facebook Founder's Gift to Newark

From guest blogger Catherine Gewertz:

In state politics, New Jersey rocks and rolls. And not just because it's the home of The Boss.

In the last few weeks, there's been an interesting story unfolding there as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to turn around the troubled Newark school system. He made this announcement on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," flanked by Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

But quicker than you could say "friend," the social-network-site entrepreneur's idea got complicated. It seemed that what the three men had in mind was for Mayor Booker to have quite a bit of power over the reforms undertaken with the donated money. Legal types said that could amount to a violation of state law, since New Jersey doesn't permit mayoral control of schools. The governor and some urban-school activists pulled no punches in reacting to those legal questions.

When we wrote our story about the Newark dustup, the state education department stayed pointedly silent, referring all calls to the governor's office. But now the acting ed commissioner (remember that Gov. Christie fired the last commissioner because of the state's botched Race to the Top application) is telling a state legislative committee that the law bars both the mayor and the governor from wielding power over school reform. The Newark Star-Ledger, which has been at the forefront of this story, reports that the governor's office is starting to "backpedal" on the amount of power it wants Booker to have. (One of the key things here is that Newark is a district under state control.)

Those of you interested in the Newark story might want to read our "Straight Up" blogger Rick Hess' take on it as well.

And since New Jersey politics are so irresistibly colorful, you will want to read what that fired ed commissioner, Bret Schundler, told state lawmakers. He spills more beans on the RTT-application brouhaha.

Like I said, rockin' and rollin' in the Garden State.

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