Cleveland Metropolitan School District will formally accept a $20 million donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who earlier this month announced she was giving $2 billion to more than 300 public school systems and non-profit organizations. Scott put no restrictions on the donation, meaning CMSD has full control over how the money is spent. 

Gordon said it is the largest donation the school district has received in at least two decades and may be the largest private donation in the district’s history.

The award came as a surprise.  

“She and her team simply identify organizations they want to support, and we are thrilled that CMSD made the list,” Gordon said.

Donation can be used for a wide range of district needs

Gordon said the district will use the donation to create the CMSD Get More Opportunities Fund.

The fund will support three major categories of investments: Scholar opportunities, educator opportunities, and one-time facility improvements.

The district plans to spend $4 million of the Scott money per year for the next five years, beginning in January, Gordon said.

For many years, we’ve wanted to make the significant investments we’re announcing today and many more, but we’ve never had the unrestricted resources to scale impact district wide.

Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eric Gordon

The fund will cover the costs for students to travel on college visits, participate in foreign-exchange programs, summer camps, and eighth-grade trips to Washington, D.C.  The fund also will provide scholarships for students to get their driver’s licenses. 

The money allocated for student programs also includes purchases of sports equipment and performing arts technology. 

Gordon said these purchases will give CMSD students opportunities to  “mirror the experiences of many of our suburban counterparts,” Gordon said.

CMSD's Rhodes High School Basketball players will benefit from new equipment thanks to the CMSD Get More Opportunities Fund
CMSD’s Rhodes High School Basketball players will benefit from new equipment thanks to the CMSD Get More Opportunities Fund Credit: Paul Rochford / Signal Cleveland

Students will also have a say in how some of this money is spent. 

At the fund announcement on Tuesday, Gordon called on student council members to stand and then asked, “How would you spend a million dollars?”

Gordon promised the students they will have input on how the district spends a portion of the money. 

A portion of the donation will also be spent on teacher training and resources.

The Get More Opportunities Fund will pay for Teaching Innovation Grants, which support teachers in building new curriculum and exchanging ideas with other teachers.

CMSD students sign a thank you note for philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who donated money to CMSD in November 2022
CMSD students sign a thank you note for philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who donated money to CMSD in November 2022 Credit: Paul Rochford / Signal Cleveland

Gordon said he will use some of the money for one-time facility improvements. These include upgrades to athletic fields across the district, performing arts spaces and science labs. CMSD will also use the money to purchase musical instruments and science equipment. 

Bus drivers also will get something out of this. The district plans to remodel the bus drivers’ break rooms, which have not been renovated in many years.

Another portion of the money will pay for the construction of a marquee for East Technical High School’s restaurant and culinary kitchen.

“For many years, we’ve wanted to make the significant investments we’re announcing today and many more, but we’ve never had the unrestricted resources to scale impact district wide,” Gordon said.

K-12 Education Reporter (he/him)
Paul, a former City Year Cleveland AmeriCorps member based in a charter school, covered K-12 education for Signal Cleveland until August, 2023. Paul joined us from Cleveland Documenters, where he focused on creating infographics and civic tech to make public information more accessible. Paul is also a musician, photographer and graphic designer.