The Ultra Rich and Education

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan with their daughter, Max.

This week Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, his wife, announced that they would be donating a large percentage of their fortune to charity over the course of their lifetimes- roughly 99% of their Facebook shares or about $45 billion. This announcement came in the days leading up to the birth of their first child and was delivered as an open letter to their daughter. They framed their announcement as part of their vision for the better world they hoped for for her in her lifetime and to many this was heralded as a generous and selfless decision. And maybe it was to a certain extent. But by putting their money into an LLC, which is what Zuckerberg and Chan have announced they are going to do, they will avoid paying a large sum of taxes on their enormous fortune. So what might the real effect of their decision be, and in particular what could it mean for the state of education in the United States?

There are a few ways that this decision may effect public education. First, by avoiding paying a very large sum of money in taxes, Zuckerberg and Chan are taking away funding that would have gone towards government programs, like public education, for example. This is particularly troublesome if this trend of the extremely wealthy using their money in this way continues. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet also chose a similar path. These three examples alone represent a very significant amount of money.

A second education-related trend among these wealthy “do-gooders” is their support for charter schools. Zuckerberg has already tested the waters in this area, throwing $100 million into charter schools in Newark, New Jersey, hoping to set a precedent for a new national model.

Mark Zuckerberg and Former Newark Mayor Cory Booker.   (AP Photo/Rich Shultz)

However, this process “largely excluded teachers and parents from the policymaking process[,] sparked strong grassroots opposition, and in the end little headway was made.” The Gates Foundation has also been a major proponent of charter schools, increased standardized testing, and the Common Core.

If these mega-rich are truly interested in addressing challenges this country, and communities around the world, are facing, instead of throwing money at the problem (particularly if their strategy is largely based on a self-serving model)- it is their own wealth they need to confront and what it means for continued poverty and inequality around the world. As Linsey McGoey so aptly states in her book No Such Thing as a Free Gift, “the real problem in American public education is not failing schools nor ineffective teachers but poverty. If… wealthy backers of charter schools were to admit this… they would have to face the question of why people like themselves are allowed to make so much while so many others have so little.”


Auerbach, David. Can We Trust the Hacker Philanthropists? The Slate Group. 2 December 2015.

AFP. Zuckerberg looks to India for growth. IOL Beta. 28 October 2015.

Bisaria, Anjali. Mark Zuckerberg’s Brings Connectivity To India, Free Internet Services Become Available To All. India Times. 24 November 2015.

Cassidy, John. Mark Zuckerberg and the Rise of Philanthrocapitalism. The New Yorker. 2 December 2015.

Guynn, Jessica. Mark Zuckerberg: Why Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is an LLC. USA Today. 4 December 2015.

Massing, Michael. How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and Bad of “Hacker Philanthropy.” The Intercept_. 25 November 2015.

1 thought on “The Ultra Rich and Education

  1. I really appreciated this post. It is very upsetting to me when tech billionaires are heralded for their “great work” every time they make a donation, especially in the name of education. Firstly, it is disturbing that a millionaire having a “come-to-Jesus” moment of education charity gets more media attention than the millions of teachers and support staff that actually educate. Secondly, the fact that tech companies spend so little time producing educational products or services, and instead choose to make billions off making mass consumption more convenient, is never considered. Their sudden philanthropy into education seems like the secular equivalent of religious indulgences. Finally, in “throwing money at the problem” they essentially continue the top-down technocratic methods of development, where donors dictate solutions (usually that benefit them or their companies) without any knowledge of the realities on the ground.


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