Billionaire MacKenzie Scott donates $4.5M to FLACS Bronx charter schools as part of vow to donate wealth

Mackenzie Scott
MacKenzie Scott, pictured at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in 2018, chose FLACS Bronx charter schools as one of her philanthropic recipients.
Photo Evan Agostini, AP

The Bronx Family Life Academy Charter Schools (FLACS) received a $4.5 million donation from billionaire MacKenzie Scott as part of her recent bout of philanthropy.

Scott, an author, philanthropist and the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, vowed to donate most of her wealth, and has been giving at a rapid pace.

“Last year I pledged to give the majority of my wealth back to the society that helped generate it, to do it thoughtfully, to get started soon, and to keep at it until the safe is empty,” Scott wrote in a July 2020 Medium blog post.

The gift to FLACS earlier this month was part of nearly $2 billion Scott donated to 343 organizations across seven months, which she announced on her blog on Nov. 14.

The organizations all support “the voices and opportunities of people from underserved communities,” according to Scott’s announcement. She said many of the organizations are funds that spread donations across smaller organizations that work toward a common cause. In a previous blog post, she said that the organizations she donates to are selected through a rigorous process.

Though Scott did not list individual amounts allocated to each cause, FLACS said it received $4.5 million.

“This gift will allow FLACS the opportunity to continue to bring all ‘voices’ to the table – board, staff, parents, scholars and community partners, to actively engage in discussions in setting the course and next steps for continuing a legacy of providing access to high-quality educational options for all learners, creating a transformation for equity education and choice in our communities,” said FLACS CEO Marilyn Calo, who received a call earlier this month sharing that the nonprofit was receiving the gift.

Scott does not speak to the press about her philanthropic efforts, and though she has been criticized for not being more transparent, she has promised a database of organizations she has donated to.

Scott makes her donations as an individual with the help of advisors rather than through a foundation, leaving less of a trace than foundations with reporting requirements. But scammers have tried to take advantage of Scott’s more subtle approach by posing as her nonexistent foundation and asking for a processing fee, with skilled scammers who made it appear they granted victims money ultimately causing them to lose thousands of dollars.

The donation to FLACS comes at a time when the charter school organization is growing. FLACS has three elementary schools, two of which are in Mott Haven and one in Mount Eden, that feed into a middle school in Concourse Village. The organization is just starting up its high school, which opened this fall beginning  with only a ninth grade class and will add another grade each year until it offers all four years. The ninth graders are temporarily located in the middle school building but the high school’s home will be on 170th Street and Cromwell Avenue in Mount Eden. The high school has a theme of equity, leadership and social justice and is expected to have a capacity of 700 students.

The nonprofit was founded by the Latino Pastoral Action Center with a vision to primarily serve immigrant students and English language learners in the community. Its first elementary school was founded in 2001, and the next two opened in 2012 and 2014, with the middle school opening its doors in 2019.

Charter schools in New York City are publicly funded and independently operated institutions, founded by not-for-profit boards of trustees. The schools have a range of models and missions. Those in support of charter schools favor that parents have more choice over their children’s experiences at school, but those against them argue they take away resources from typical public schools.

In April, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a $50 million effort from his foundation to allow the city’s charter schools to apply for grant funding for summer programs.

“This really is an all hands on deck moment,” Bloomberg said during an announcement with Mayor Eric Adams, in which both spoke about the impacts the pandemic has had on education. “Private sector and philanthropic groups have a duty, I think, to step in and do what they can.”

There are 94 charter schools in the Bronx, 100 in Brooklyn, 57 in Manhattan, 28 in Queens and eight in Staten Island, according to a state Department of Education directory. Across the city, 13.2% of public school students attended charter schools last school year, according to city Department of Education data.

Scott donated $5.8 billion by the end of 2020, which has since risen to $14 billion, according to the Associated Press. As of Monday, her net worth was estimated by Bloomberg to be $27.8 billion, ranking No. 49 worldwide.

Scott’s team did not respond to a request for comment on the FLACS donation.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

More from Around NYC