April 12, 2011; Source: The Record | Democratic members of the New Jersey state legislature are surprised that the Broad Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is paying $60,000 for a national education expert to advise state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf. The expert, William Cox, is helping Cerf "restructure" the Department of Education.
This small grant for Cox's part-time work generated three hours of questions from legislators. The chairman of the committee, Democratic Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, concluded that he wants full disclosure of philanthropic payments for state government staff such as Broad's support of Cox, arguing that the state should know "what we're getting for 20 grand a month." Greenwald suggested that that sum "could [be] put . . . into an after school program," for example, missing the point that Broad gave the grant specifically for Cox's consulting advice, not as an unrestricted contribution to the governing costs of Republican governor Chris Christie.
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How did a California foundation find itself paying for a cost of state government in New Jersey? Both Cox and Cerf have worked with the foundation at the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and the Broad Superintendents Academy. Cox founded a school evaluation project in 2001 that was funded by the Broad Foundation and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although he has worked in recent years as a business analyst for the likes of S&P, he also consulted with a firm called Wireless Generation that prepared the state's unsuccessful "Race to the Top" application that The Record referred to as "bungled."
More interesting is that Eli and Edythe Broad are longtime major donors to the Democratic Party. Christie is a rapidly ascending star of the Republican party. Democrats in New Jersey have been slugging it out with Christie over his budget cuts – including cuts in services to poor families – and his strident criticism of the state's teachers unions. But Broad's education reform agenda is generally supportive of efforts of Christie's (and at the federal level, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama) supporting more flexibility and privatization in education, such as charter schools and performance pay for teachers, notwithstanding the opposition of the teachers unions.—Rick Cohen