MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist, novelist, and ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, gave the Fresno Unified School District a $20 million donation, the district announced Wednesday at a news conference.
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The money will be used for FUSD’s new Foundation for Fresno Unified Schools. TOP VIDEOS × Fresno Superintendent Bob Nelson said Fresno’s “negative self-image,” and the city’s high poverty rate made a “tool of privilege” like a foundation seem out of reach. The mindset that “’that’s not something for Fresno,” he said, “weaves its way into the hearts of our kids. That’s what has to change.”
Wendy McCulley, the district’s chief of Engagement and External Partnerships, oversees the new foundation, as well as a partnerships office.
“The vision for the newly launched Foundation is to empower every child to achieve more,” said Wendy McCulley.
She told the Bee’s Education Lab that the district is still deciding on how the funds will be used — for example, whether the district gives out scholarships to entire graduating classes, or to more select students but for all four years of college. “We will continue to focus on scholarships, but there’s openings for us to do many, many more things now that we have 20 million,” she said. McCulley also said starting an endowment is “absolutely” a possibility and that FUSD will be consulting with other K-12 districts that have them. “We have to preserve this,” she said, “so we can grow and grow … for our kids.” Several Fresno Unified trustees joined Nelson and the board of the foundation to celebrate the historic donation. “It’s placing a bet on our kids (and) our district,” said Trustee Andy Levine. He’s spoken about his hopes for the foundation previously, as a potential way to build on state-sponsored college funding programs like CalKIDS. Trustee Valerie Davis called the donation “nothing short of a miracle” for all Fresno Unified kids. Just last month, Fresno Unified announced its “largest single donation ever” at the time: $30,000 from Amazon. That money was to sponsor the district’s State of Education Gala on Thursday night at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, where Superintendent Nelson said he’ll discuss the thinking behind the foundation further and deliver a report on the state of education in Fresno Unified. This isn’t the first time Amazon-affiliates have made big donations to Fresno: Bezos himself has also donated $5 million to the city in December 2020 to put toward homelessness solutions.
Scott, the fourth-richest woman in the world according to Forbes’ 36th annual list, became a billionaire after she received a quarter of her ex-husband’s Amazon holdings as part of their divorce settlement in 2019. Since then, she’s donated millions to charitable causes, from grassroots organizations to established nonprofits. Superintendent Nelson said the district believes this is one of very few donations from Scott that have gone toward K-12 schools. Scott’s representatives tend to be somewhat hush-hush about the reasons behind her donations — but Scott’s Medium account, where she lists all recipients, lists no other school district as of March.
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