Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Donation to San Francisco Schools Likely to Benefit Latino Students Most
"Everybody's getting paid, but Raheem still can't read."
That was an illuminating remark offered by Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, four years ago when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey, public school system. The large donation was handled by then-mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; much of the well-intentioned funds have dwindled and were spent on high-paid consultants and contractors. That experience was "a big influence on [Zuckerberg's] thinking," but it hasn't fazed him or his wife, Priscilla Chan, who recently opted to give San Francisco Bay Area schools $120 million, which will greatly benefit Hispanic children in the Latino-dominant Ravenwoods and Redwood City public school system.
Two of the three school districts that are receiving gifts from the Zuckerbergs and their foundation, Startup:Education, are largely dominated by Latino students. These students will soon benefit from finance, computers, connectivity and teacher training. The money will also go toward boosting funding for science studies and English proficiency in Ravenwoods, which is at less than 40 percent. The couple indicated in an essay that they wrote for The San Jose Mercury News that the lack of English proficiency "means fewer students from low-income and minority backgrounds graduating from high school or attending and succeeding in college."
Educators in Bay Area schools, who suffer from a lack of resources, will be able to grow student knowledge and access tools that were previously unattainable. The first $5 million of the $120 million will equip Ravenswood and Redwood City school districts with principal training, classroom technology and student assistance for those transitioning from the eighth to the ninth grade. Spread over the next five years, the funding is the largest allocation to date of the $1.1 billion in Facebook stock that the Zuckerbergs pledged to the nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The two happily invest their money into the lives of young people; the $1.1 billion donation is on top of another $500 million the pair gave a year earlier to the Silicon Valley foundation, which helps donors distribute their gifts.
"Education is incredibly expensive, and this is a drop in the bucket," Chan said in an interview at Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters. "What we are trying to do is catalyze change by exploring and promoting the development of new interventions and new models."
Even with improvements, the Zuckerbergs said they don't expect change overnight and believe that it's still too soon to see the results of his contribution to Newark's schools, which had a few immediate positives, such as performance-based pay bonuses for the district's best teachers and admonishment for those not performing well.
"The schools and programs that the folks put in place, only now are they ramping up and students are starting to go through them. So you won't know what the outcomes are until like five, seven, 10 years from now," he said. "That said, I think there are some things that are going generally better than we'd expected and some things that we've definitely taken as lessons."
Interested in the hands-on application of philanthropy, in addition to donating, Zuckerberg and Chan, a pediatrician, offer their time to the community. Chan works primarily with immigrant families at University of California San Francisco medical center and has taught fourth and fifth grade science at a local private school. Zuckerberg, who was No. 21 on the Forbes list of the world's richest people and has taken a symbolic annual salary of $1, has run an after-school program on entrepreneurship and is active in immigration reform. Last year, he and numerous tech leaders formed Fwd.us, a community group that's geared toward changing immigration policy.
Being close to the location of their latest donation will help the couples gauge the application of the funds and will help them to understand what the community needs the most, as opposed to what community leaders want.
"I think one of the things that we took away from [Newark] is that we wanted to do our next set of work in a place where we can engage more directly with the community and a place that we care about a lot. The Bay Area just fit that well," Zuckerberg said. "I'm really focused on connecting the world. That's my main thing, and [Chan] primarily focused on children. And we're able to do some of this work together, which is neat. ...There are interesting overlaps."