MacKenzie Scott to give Detroit school district $20 million

Teacher holds a piece of paper in front of a classroom of students.

The Detroit school district will receive $20 million from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, money that will be used to support academic improvement efforts.

“The district intends to use the funds to raise student achievement by implementing its literacy and math intervention model at scale, especially targeting lower grade levels,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement.

The money will allow the district to hire more academic interventionists who will work one on one and in small groups with students. Vitti said the plan will be reviewed and discussed with the district’s school board in January.

The gift comes at a critical time in the district. Academic achievement, which had been falling short for years prior to the COVID pandemic, has deteriorated as students struggled with many months spent learning remotely. The district is using some of its federal COVID relief money to expand tutoring efforts to struggling students. But that money will run out soon, while the needs will remain.

Scott on Monday released a list of 343 organizations that had received recent gifts. She said the full amount totaled nearly $2 billion over the past seven months. Schools have been a big beneficiary: Chalkbeat reported that Scott has given $150 million to public school districts across the country.

New Paradigm for Education, which operates charter schools in the city, also received a gift — of about $2 million. The money will support academic offerings, as well as teacher and leader development.

“We are incredibly grateful to Ms. Scott for seeking us out for investment,” said Ralph Bland, founder and president of New Paradigm. “Our team works tirelessly to ensure that all of our scholars have access to an excellent education — and this gift is a true affirmation of that commitment and relentlessness.”   

Several Detroit area youth institutions are also benefiting. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit received a gift, as did Friends of the Children Detroit, Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan, and Junior Achievement of Southeastern Michigan. It was unclear how much those entities received.

Vitti said the gift from Scott “speaks to our improvement over the past five years as a district, especially through strategic planning tied to fiscal management.”

“We will ensure the funds are used to improve the performance of our students and address other challenges that impact the outcomes of our students,” he said.

Lori Higgins is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at

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