Brandon Bailey, Mercury News, May 29, 2014
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife on Thursday pledged $120 million to help schools in low-income Bay Area communities in what amounts to their biggest publicly announced donation to a local cause.
“The world’s most innovative community shouldn’t also be a home for struggling public schools,” Zuckerberg said, announcing the pledge in an essay written for this newspaper’s opinion section. He cited the example of chronically low test scores in the Ravenswood school district, which serves low-income and minority communities near Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park.
“There are many heroic educators doing their best to serve students here,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But the challenges are much greater than the resources they receive.”
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have made headlines with big charitable gifts before: He gave $100 million to help schools in Newark, N.J., and the couple later donated stock worth more than $1.5 billion to a fund administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation–which made them the nation’s biggest charitable donors in 2013. The fund at the community foundation is intended to finance a variety of projects over many years, including a multimillion-dollar grant for health research and $5 million provided earlier this year to an East Palo Alto medical clinic.
The latest gift, which also comes from that fund, will help “improve education for underserved communities” over the next five years, Zuckerberg said. Some of the $120 million will help start new public and charter schools in the Bay Area while the rest will pay for equipment, training and other programs at existing schools. The first $5 million will go to needy schools in the Ravenswood and Redwood City school districts and other “high-need” neighborhoods of San Francisco.
Funds from the new pledge will be distributed by Startup:Education, an organization run by former educator and management consultant Jen Holleran. Zuckerberg and Chan created the group to oversee the 2010 donation to schools in Newark, after Zuckerberg was solicited to help fund reforms backed by then-mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The Newark gift has proven controversial: The New Yorker magazine reported in a lengthy article this month that a big chunk of the funds ended up going to pricey consultants, while reform efforts bogged down in factional politics, without producing much improvement in student performance so far.
In his newspaper essay, however, Zuckerberg cited some initial milestones and added, “It’s still too early to see the full results in Newark, but we’re making progress and have learned a lot about what makes a successful effort.”