The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation unveiled a $350 million gift last week to finance four initiatives over three years to improve K-12 public and private schools nationally, with a special focus on Washington state.
The money will be used for professional development for principals, superintendents, and teachers, said Jenna Buffaloe, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based philanthropy established by Mr. Gates, the co-founder and chairman of the Microsoft Corp., and his wife. Awards will also be given to school districts and individual schools cited by the foundation as models of excellence.
“The investments we are making in education all derive from a core belief—that all students can achieve if you provide the right learning environment and the right tools,” Tom Vander Ark, the foundation’s executive director for education, said in a statement.
More than $100 million will be allocated to strengthening the leadership capabilities of principals and superintendents in all 50 states, Ms. Buffaloe said. The program, patterned after an effort targeted at school leaders that is under way in Washington state, will provide participants with laptop computers and send them to four-day seminars on the use of the technology.
Some $25 million will be allocated for technology training for teachers around the nation, Ms. Buffaloe said.
The foundation donated $45 million to expand its ongoing effort to provide technology training to teachers in Washington state, she added, in which teachers are given laptops and seminars on how to use them.
The foundation will also donate $150 million to 20 districts nationally and 10 in Washington state that are recognized as having superior teaching and learning practices and an emphasis on access to technology, but not enough resources to carry out their plans, Ms. Buffaloe said.
The 47,000-student Seattle district has received the first check—for about $26 million.
An additional $30 million will be given to individual schools in the state that exhibit innovative teaching practices and have strong technology plans but lack money to implement them.
“We’re looking for schools and districts with good leadership that put a lot of thought into how students achieve,” Ms. Buffaloe said.
The gifts are “an enormous step forward in accelerating reform in K-12 education,” said Robin Pasquarella, the president of the Alliance for Education, a private, nonprofit organization that raises money for the Seattle schools. “Hopefully, this leadership gift … will spur other public and private funders to invest in improvements in teaching and learning.”
Administrators in Seattle say they already know what they’ll do with the money. “This means we can accelerate our plan with regard to technology,” said Bill Southern, a spokesman for the district. “We had planned to have all  schools wired by 2009, and now we’ll be able to accomplish that by 2002.”
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has assets of $21.8 billion and is considered the richest foundation in the world.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Gates Gift Builds on ‘Excellence,’ Tech Access