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Funders Partner to Strengthen Newark Schools

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On April 24, 2008 a $19 million landmark award was announced that will strengthen Newark public charter schools. The award comprises grants from seven funders including four national family foundations -- the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Robertson Foundation, and The Walton Foundation -- and three New Jersey funders -- the MCJ and Amelior Foundations, Prudential Foundation, and Victoria Foundation.
 
The national funders have pledged $4 million each and the New Jersey foundations have earmarked $1 million each toward the initiative.  “We welcome these generous national foundations to Newark, and we are grateful for the new investment from three of the city’s longstanding philanthropic partners,” Mayor Cory Booker said.

The $19 million is part of a larger $25 million campaign to help expand and strengthen the capacity of Newark’s charter schools.  For further information, visit the website of the newly established Newark Charter School Fund.

Grantmakers Convene Around Prisoner Reentry
A group of 30 grantmakers and Newark officials gathered on April 28 at the offices of the Charles Edison Fund to get a close-up look at the City’s strategies to address the growing issue of prisoner reentry, one of Mayor Booker’s key priorities. Newark faces an influx of 1,500-2,000 men and women every year returning from incarceration. At the same time, 15,000–20,000 individuals are currently on probation or parole in Essex County, the majority in Newark.

Funders seeking to positively impact the city and its residents have a vested interest in helping to improve prospects for the rising number of incarcerated persons returning home. The challenges are complex and intertwined with issues of public safety, job creation and job-readiness, family reunification and fatherhood, access to housing and addiction services, and vigilant case management.

Cornell Brooks, executive director of the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice, gave an overview of the barriers which prevent ex-prisoners from successfully reentering society. Among the most burdensome hurdles are prohibitions on conditional driver’s licenses and inflexible fine payment plans. Such measures effectively close the doors to viable employment options upon release. Another barrier is the effect of exorbitant surcharges on collect telephone calls from prison. The high charges contribute to the erosion of family ties during incarceration, thereby reducing successful family reunification post-release. 

Richard Greenwald, an executive on loan to the City from the Manhattan Institute, cited the importance of creating transitional jobs immediately upon release as a proven means of reducing recidivism. Wanda Moore, Director of the Prisoner Reentry, explained the need to mobilize and organize multiple nonprofit and government partners to better serve ex-prisoners. She described “Opportunity Reconnect,” a one-stop center operated by the City, which is helping link ex-prisoners to case managers, job services, and myriad agencies.  Performance measures and data-communications systems are in the development stage to help the City assess and evaluate its effectiveness at helping individuals successfully return to the community and their families.