Mayor Bloomberg said Wednesday he has raised $1.5 million from private donors to resume January Regents testing statewide, exams that are critical to thousands of college-bound students.
The tests that help as many as 5,000 students in New York City alone to graduate early and to meet college requirements were cut beginning this year as the state addressed a multi-billion dollar deficit. Bloomberg said 80 percent of the students hurt by the decision were black or Hispanic and some were returning to school after dropping out.
"I knew we had to do something, or we would be letting our kids down," Bloomberg said. "I've always believed that you can either complain about your problems or do something to fix them — in New York City, we choose the latter."
Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said the city will continue to work with the state Education Department, which creates and administers the tests, to find a long-term solution.
"These generous donations give these students the opportunity for an uninterrupted transition to a successful future," Walcott said.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said he's grateful for the funding that will provide some students the chance to graduate earlier than their class.
"A structural imbalance in funding for the past several years led to the difficult decision to curtail these exam administrations," said King, who became commissioner in May. He said $4 million in cost savings are planned to protect the tests this year.
Bloomberg won't identify the donors he and Walcott contacted. The six donors gave $250,000 each to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City and the Fund for Public Schools.
"Certainly, we're very glad to see the exams will be offered to students," said Susan Lerner of watchdog group Common Cause New York, "but we are puzzled why the benefactors do not want to be named. We would applaud them for their civic-mindedness."
But she said anonymous donations through government leaders prompt speculation about motives.
"It's a marvelous way to gain the gratitude of the mayor without the public having any information," she said.
"I don't think it's anybody's business," Bloomberg responded to reporters' question on the lack of disclosure. "There's no conflict of interest."
Bloomberg, a billionaire, said philanthropists aren't likely to donate "if they're going to be dragged to the press and called by the press ... They're not trying to court favor with anybody.
"They're not trying to have people say nice things about them. They just understand that this is the future of our country, our kids, future of our city, and every one of them first time I asked instantly said, 'Be happy to do it.'"
He said details of the donations will be disclosed as the law requires.
The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City and Fund for Public Schools are charities registered with the state, each with more than $30 million in assets. Neither state nor federal records for the charities require donors to be identified.
The Mayor's Fund's federal tax return shows it operates out of city offices under a contract and supports various city programs, including those aimed at poverty and the planting of trees. Its board members include bold-face names and philanthropists such as Kenneth Langone, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Another is Jonathan Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants and part of the prominent Tisch family of Manhattan that includes state schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch, head of the Board of Regents, which sets education policy and leads the state education department.
The Fund for Public Schools has helped pay for numerous educational programs, according to state and IRS records. Its members include Wendi Murdoch, wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, and news publisher Mortimer Zuckerman.
The education department suspended the January Regents when cuts were made to address a series of budget gaps under Gov. David Paterson's tenure.