Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Thursday that he and his wife, MacKenzie, are pledging $2 billion to form a network of preschools in low-income communities, as well as fund nonprofits that help homeless families. The project’s name: the Bezos Day One Fund.
The Day 1 Academies Fund initiative will create a series of full-scholarship Montessori-inspired preschools, along with an organization to operate them, Bezos wrote in a statement. The Day 1 Families Fund will give annual leadership awards to groups that do “compassionate, needle-moving work” to find families housing and food, he wrote.
The announcement comes more than a year after Bezos asked his Twitter followers how he should give back. It also comes after criticism that Bezos — who became the richest man in modern history earlier this year — wasn’t doing enough philanthropically.
Bezos’s donation seems to be rooted in good intentions, and it comes at a time when early-childhood education is dominating talks of how to revamp nationwide learning efforts. The First Five Years Fund, which aims to get more federal support for early education, says preschool enrollment has continued to increase, but that there still isn’t enough money to match this uptick and create high-quality programs. Bezos’s pledge could be one of the biggest ever to be given to preschools, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Research and advocates also agree that another problem comes from a lack of access to preschool and other early-childhood education programs, especially in low-income, rural or underserved areas. In 2016, 58% of 3-year-olds and 34% of 4-year-olds in the U.S. weren’t enrolled in a nursery school, preschool or kindergarten program, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education.
Early-childhood education is often paired with other efforts to change the learning landscape, including personalized learning, which benefits students by adjusting to their individual skills and letting them move at their own pace. The Day One Fund’s preschools will be inspired by Montessori schools, which emphasizes self-directed, multi-age groups.
This isn’t the first of Bezos’s charitable donations, but he is a little late to the game in getting up to par with fellow billionaires’ pledges. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have said they’ll donate 99% of their Facebook shares to “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” and this year, his charity pledged $30 million to help students learn to read. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated billions of dollars to charity, and in August, the organization unveiled $90 million in grants for its student achievement initiative.
It’s hard to say the effect the donation will have, as Bezos didn’t say how many schools he plans to create, where they’ll be or when they’ll open. But increasing funding for these programs has proven to be crucial, and Avo Makdessian — the vice president and director of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s Center for Early Learning — told the Post he hopes it will bring in more money. “We’re hoping that local, state and federal governments see this as a call to invest more in preschool and child care,” he told the Post. “Frankly, philanthropy can’t fund all of society’s challenges."