Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Billionaire financier Steve Schwarzman this week donated $25 million to the public high school from which he graduated in 1965. It is believed to be the largest-ever gift of its kind, and Schwarzman hopes it will encourage other public schools to fundraise from their alumni.

Why it matters: More than 90% of America's 56 million K-12 students attend public schools, and 3.3 million of them are expected to graduate this year from high school. Almost none are ever asked for donations, despite clear needs to improve academic proficiency and an increased reliance on student fees to fund extracurricular activities.

The issue

Most U.S. public schools don't have any bureaucratic infrastructure in place to raise money, in contrast to dedicated alumni giving and endowment functions at private schools and post-secondary schools. Some of this is related to state and federal regulations, but more is just the inertia of having never done it.

"U.S. public schools have historically been paid for with tax dollars and that worked, but we've reached a point where the tax base has eroded sufficiently that a lot of these districts don't have the requisite monies," Schwarzman tells Axios.

Indeed, public schools regularly rely on parent groups and local philanthropies to fill specific budget gaps and to support capital projects — even in affluent districts. But that approach has limitations:

  1. Parents of current students already feel they are contributing financially, via both local taxes and assorted user fees. It's akin to why parents of a college graduate are more likely to donate than the parents of an active college student.
  2. It's a relatively small pool of potential donors. Imagine a high school that graduates 250 students per year. That works out to 1,000 families from which to solicit funds. Compare that to the 10,000 alumni aged 20-60 that are being ignored.

"To me, as an investor, this is a pretty easy call," says Schwarzman, who on Thursday delivered his message to a conference of school superintendents in Nashville. "It's unrealistic to think that you can't raise enough money from an entire community to do better than break-even on a full-time fundraising person and some of the set-up costs. It's just about thinking different."

It's also about using modern technologies, such as social media, to locate alumni. One public school superintendent tells Axios that her district doesn't maintain contact information for students once they graduate, and that any alumni fundraising program would have to begin by pulling out decades worth of yearbooks.

The pushback

Some critics argue that increased private donations would be just a drop in the bucket for public schools and wouldn't change the trajectory of a school district in trouble.

"The total private giving to public schools, from individual donors to the Gates Foundation, is about $2 to $3 billion," Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, says. That's less than half a percent of the $600 billion the U.S. spends annually on public schools.

There also are rules in certain school districts, such as the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District in California, whose rules require money donated to a specific school or program be redistributed across all the district's schools to minimize inequities. This can dramatically reduce the impact of a private donation and discourage parents, according to Indiana University economist Ashlyn Aiko Nelson.

Moreover, some school maps are so convoluted that a kid can go to an elementary school, middle school and high school managed by three different administrations. This means the alumni would have no particular allegiance to a district, meaning that they'd only be likely to give if the individual schools made the ask.

Bottom line

That ask is key.

Steve Schwarzman only gave after the superintendent in Abington Township, Pa. contacted him, saying the district was trying to fully renovate a high school built in the 1950s that is no longer even large enough to house the district's ninth grade.

"Private schools have done this forever, and it's a capability that public schools can develop," he says. "They owe it to their students and their communities to try."

Go deeper

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."

Biden challenges GOP agenda: "What are Republicans for?"

President Biden pushed back against Republican efforts to obstruct his agenda during a press conference Wednesday, asking "What are Republicans for?"

Why it matters: Biden's speech comes as he approaches one year in office, facing low polling numbers and a stalled agenda.