School & District Management

5 Things Educators Need to Know About Cory Booker

By Alyson Klein — October 29, 2013 3 min read
Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker talks to student Kaleb Hall, 10, about the importance of self-confidence and goal-setting during a visit to Omni Prep Academy in Memphis, Tenn. The charter was co-founded by Mr. Booker's brother, Cary Booker. The Newark mayor, who already has a national profile on K-12 issues, earlier this month won election to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey.

Update: On Feb. 1, 2019, Cory Booker announced that he would seek the White House in 2020 on the Democratic ticket. Read our latest coverage: Cory Booker, School Choice Fan and Ex-DeVos Ally, Is Running for President. Below is a 2013 profile of the U.S. senator.

New Jersey voters this month picked Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a Democrat, to fill the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, also a Democrat, who died in June. Mr. Booker already has a national profile on education issues.

1. ‘Democrat for Education Reform': Mr. Booker was a galvanizing force in the past decade bringing together a cadre of high-powered, deep-pocketed Wall Street donors with an interest in education policy, to support his early races for city council and mayor. The group eventually became Democrats for Education Reform, now the signature political action committee for left-of-center politicians who are fans of less-than-traditional Democratic policies, including charter schools and teacher performance pay.

The group’s founders “knew each other before, but they got involved in politics together to support Cory Booker,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of dfer. The pac poured some quarter-million dollars into Mr. Booker’s Senate campaign, Mr. Williams estimated.

As mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker, left, newly elected to the U.S. Senate for that state, helped persuade Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, to donate $100 million to help the city’s public schools.

2. Voucher Supporter: Mr. Booker is among a handful of prominent Democrats nationally to support private school vouchers, and championed a proposed New Jersey law that would have created a voucher program in that state. He co-founded Excellent Education for Everyone, a nonprofit organization that sought to promote vouchers and charter schools in New Jersey. The push won backing from other well-known New Jersey Democrats but was ultimately unsuccessful.

3. Fan of Merit Pay: Mr. Booker got the endorsement of the New Jersey Education Association, a National Education Association affiliate, in the Oct. 16 general election, but not in the Democratic primary. The union chose not to endorse any primary candidate. One major area of disagreement: merit pay. Newark adopted a contract last year that rewarded teachers, based on their performance, with bonuses of up to $12,500. Under the plan, low-performing teachers could lose their tenure if they get a series of low ratings. As mayor, Mr. Booker does not have control of schools and was largely limited to using the bully pulpit to champion the contract. Mr. Booker has also voiced support for taking teacher effectiveness into account in layoffs during tight fiscal times.

4. Landed Zuckerberg’s $100 Million: Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the Facebook social-networking site, announced the biggest donation ever to the Newark city schools. Mr. Booker played a key role in persuading the Internet billionaire to take the step, and he has helped spearhead the effort to raise the necessary matching funds from organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A portion of the money is being used to help finance the city’s new teacher contract.

5. Faces a Full Plate: Mr. Booker enters the U.S. Senate at a time when nearly every major education bill, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is overdue for renewal. He’ll join a group of Democratic lawmakers who may share some of his views, including Sen. Michael Bennet of Coloradoa former superintendent of Denver public schools and Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Mark Warner of Virginia.

At a Glance: Cory Booker

  • Age 44. Born in Washington, but grew up largely in New Jersey.
  • Holds a law degree from Yale University, a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in sociology from Stanford University.
  • Elected mayor of Newark in 2006 after serving from 1998 to 2002 on the city council.
  • Actively uses Twitter as a tool in governing; has more than 1.4 million followers.
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A version of this article appeared in the October 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as A Look at Cory Booker on Education Issues

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