MENLO PARK, Calif. – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are donating $120 million to public schools in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The gift, which the couple discussed Tuesday in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, will be spread over the next five years. It is the biggest allocation to date of the $1.1 billion in Facebook stock the couple pledged last year to the non-profit Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
“Education is incredibly expensive and this is a drop in the bucket,” Chan, a pediatrician, 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.”
The first $5 million of the $120 million will go to the San Francisco, Ravenswood and Redwood City school districts and will focus on principal training, classroom technology and helping students transition from the 8th to the 9th grade. The couple and their foundation, called Startup: Education, determined the issues of most urgent need based on discussions with school administrators and local leaders.
The gift comes at a time when critics are still questioning what became of Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to Newark, New Jersey’s public school system. Four years ago, he announced the donation flanked by then-mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. A recent New Yorker article criticizes the donation and the chain of events it set in motion.
While well-intentioned, the money has so far failed to fix the city’s ailing school system. The process lacked meaningful community input and much of the money has been spent on high-paid contractors and consultants. Four years later, the money is nearly gone and a lot of people are angry. The story’s most poignant quote is from Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, who said “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”
Zuckerberg said the Newark experience is a “big influence on our thinking” with the Bay Area donation. Taking the long view, he’s quick to point out that the results in New Jersey are too early to measure.
“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 5, 7, 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.”
One of the positive outcomes Zuckerberg points to: Newark’s teacher contracts, which, among other things, provide for performance-based pay bonuses for the district’s best teachers.
Zuckerberg acknowledges that he and local leaders could have done a better job engaging the community and soliciting ideas about how to spend the money.
Chan, 29, and Zuckerberg, 30, have made philanthropy a central theme of their life together. The two made the largest charitable gift on record for 2013. That $1.1 billion donation was on top of another $500 million the couple gave a year earlier to the Silicon Valley foundation, which helps donors allocate their gifts.
Last year, Zuckerberg was No. 21 on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, right behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and ahead of well-known billionaires such as activist investor Carl Icahn and philanthropist George Soros. He owns Facebook stock worth over $27 billion. In 2013, as the median yearly pay for U.S. CEOs crossed the $10 million mark amid a widening income gap, Zuckerberg took a symbolic annual salary of $1.
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