MacKenzie Scott donates nearly $50 million to public schools in Chicago

Uniformed students in second grade sitting at desks raise their hands as their teachers looks at them in a classroom. The students and teacher are all wearing masks.
Second grade students raise their hands on the first day of school at a LEARN Charter School on Chicago’s West Side. The charter network received $7 million from billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott. (Eileen Pomeroy / Chalkbeat)

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is donating a combined $48 million to public schools in Chicago as part of her ongoing efforts to give away her wealth. 

The grants have no restrictions and can be used by the schools however they want. 

Chicago Public Schools received $25 million, the Noble Network of Charter Schools got $16 million, and LEARN Charter School Network will see $7 million. 

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Greg White, president & CEO of LEARN. “We’re thrilled. We’ve been working 20 years for this kind of opportunity.”

Scott has given away more than $14 billion of her fortune since she first pledged to do so in 2019. Most of her wealth comes from her stake in Amazon, the company founded by her ex-husband Jeff Bezos. In a post about the latest donations on Monday, Scott outlined why she puts no strings on the money. 

“I recently learned a saying used in disability communities: ‘Nothing about us without us.’” Scott wrote. “For me, it’s another beautiful and powerful reminder. I needn’t ask those I care about what to say to them, or what to do for them. I can share what I have with them to stand behind them as they speak and act for themselves.”

In a statement, Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Mary Fergus confirmed the donation and said the district plans to spend the money on some of the efforts outlined in a yet-to-be-released blueprint. 

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez has said the blueprint will focus on improving services for students with disabilities, strengthening career and technical education, and making school admissions more fair. 

“This very generous donation will most certainly help change lives,” Fergus said.

Noble Network of Charter Schools CEO Constance Jones said the $16 million grant is the largest unrestricted donation the network has ever received. She said the money will “fuel Noble’s mission as we strive to become an antiracist organization that unapologetically prepares students from underserved communities to complete college and lead choice-filled lives.”

Become a Chalkbeat sponsor

The LEARN Charter School Network is planning to use the $7 million it received from Scott to help its elementary school graduates make it to and through college and train and “hire, retain, support and grow” its teaching staff, according to White.  

“We believe that the academic foundation and ambition to earn a college degree begins early,” White said, noting their network has a multi-year, $20 million fundraising campaign underway aimed at increasing the college completion rates for their graduates from around 30% to 50%. 

“The relationship does not end in the eighth grade,” White said. He said he plans to hire a full-time alumni manager soon.

The list of nearly 350 organizations Scott gave nearly $2 billion to over the last several months also includes more than a dozen traditional school districts, including Detroit Public Schools, and charter school networks from across the country. 

It also includes several Chicago-based nonprofits who work with children. Access Living, which advocates for students with disabilities, received $8 million; Friends of the Children - Chicago, which focuses on ending generational poverty, got $1.4 million, and Chicago-area Girl Scouts was given $4.2 million. One Million Degrees, which provides “wraparound” support to community college students is also on the list, but it’s not clear how much money the organization received. 

Last year,  Scott also gave $40 million to the University of Illinois at Chicago and $5 million to Kennedy-King College

Becky Vevea is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Chicago. Contact Becky at bvevea@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

The board’s decision addresses a yearslong grassroots movement that has pushed the district to remove SROs from school campuses but didn’t come without pushback.

Un problema técnico está causando dificultades para completar el formulario de FAFSA de los estudiantes con padres indocumentados. Ahora hay un par de alternativas—y el arreglo llegará en un par de semanas.

At Chalkbeat New York, we’re hoping to dive deeper on how schools are handling cell phones. We want to learn more about the policies schools are adopting.

Despite a desire among many community college students to transfer and earn a four-year degree, most in Colorado don't realize that dream.

Friends of the Children works with kids who have adverse childhood experiences that include experiencing violence, abuse or neglect, having a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol or being placed in the foster care system.

The state blocked an alternative public charter school from expanding into Jersey City, and for the third time in a row, denied another school’s request to expand.