As announcements of philanthropic gifts go, it’s hard to top the one made this month by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.
In an emotional letter addressed to their soon-to-be-born daughter, the couple announced that they would dedicate a staggering sum — Facebook shares currently worth $45 billion — to philanthropy over their lifetimes. The scope of their ambition is also breathtaking. They want nothing less than to cure diseases, advance human potential, combat inequality and “channel the talents, ideas and contributions of every person in the world.”
They no doubt will be besieged by requests, and the Star Tribune Editorial Board offers another. We’d like to spotlight a neglected educational crisis in desperate need of the couple’s beneficence: poor outcomes for all American Indian students and the deplorable conditions of many tribal school buildings.
Native students nationally have the lowest graduation rate of any ethnic group. And as the Star Tribune’s “Separate and Unequal” editorial series documented in 2014, many tribal school buildings are in shocking disrepair because of federal neglect. Providing a safe environment that promotes learning would be a smart, targeted use for the couple’s philanthropic dollars — one that would provide a solid foundation for improving outcomes. The couple’s technological expertise also could bring broadband to more of these schools, helping children on remote reservations connect with the world.
Only in his early 30s, Zuckerberg is already a philanthropic force in education, donating $100 million to Newark, N.J., schools and $120 million to California’s Bay Area schools. Branching out to include schools that serve American Indian students in disadvantaged, often crime-ridden communities is a logical step. It’s hard to imagine where the Zuckerberg fortune could more immediately begin the work of lifting future generations out of poverty.