Corporate Titans Who Spent a Fortune on Schools

billionaires-fe04sidebar-wide
From Left: Dell Inc. founder and CEO Michael Dell; investor Eli Broad; Walmart CEO Sam Walton; and Microsoft founder Bill Gates. From left: Raveedran / AFP-Getty Images; David Livingston / Getty Images; Eli Reichhman / Time Life Pictures-Getty Images; Miguel Medina / AFP-Getty Images

Corporate titans spent a fortune on schools. Their reform report cards:

B-

Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
$400 million
Austin, Texas, in 1999

To improve education for the urban poor through charters, school leadership programs, and data systems that track student performance.

Among the foundation’s outlays: $135 million on quick-access systems that provide at-a-glance monitoring of student and school trends, allowing for speedy responses to kids’ needs. Spent $66 million on select charter schools, claiming that half of poor students in them outperform statewide averages on standardized tests. Spent $29 million on expanding access to Advanced Placement classes.

B-

Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
$440 million
Los Angeles in 1999

To further urban education by focusing on leadership training, competition through charter schools, and teacher effectiveness.

Invested $116 million to train principals and superintendents, but pulled out of the principal programs. Superintendent graduates lead 43 urban school districts; Broad says two thirds of superintendents serving for three years are heading up districts where student achievement has improved faster than similar districts. Spent $97 million on charter schools and $25 million on teacher merit-pay schemes.

C

Walton Family Foundation
$538 million*
Bentonville, Ark., in 1987

To create competition through charter schools and voucher programs, especially in low-income areas.

Spent more than $272 million on 1,200 charter schools serving 350,000 low-income students. Pleased with the progress, but no results released. Stanford University experts found a third of students at Walton-backed charters scored better on standardized tests than similar students in regular public schools. Spent $42 million on advocacy for school vouchers and charters; gave $10 million to Washington, D.C., pay-for-performance initiative.

C-

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
$3 billion†
Seattle in 2000

To see 80 percent of high-school students, especially minorities, graduate. Shifted focus from school redesign to developing effective teachers.

Spent $2 billion to improve high schools and reduce their size. After eight years, Gates ditched the project, concluding that size alone doesn’t beget academic excellence.

Invested $466 million in charter schools, but some failed to meet expectations for student achievement.

Now spending $360 million on strategies to evaluate and pay teachers and on researching what makes an effective teacher.


Grades were assigned based on the amount of money and time invested by charities in specific reforms, as well as interviews with district and foundation officials.

*2005 through 2009
†Doesn’t include $2 billion in gates scholarships for minorities

Join the Discussion