Why Is This Hedge Fund Billionaire Giving Big to a Harlem Tutoring Program?

The East Harlem Tutoring Program's Christmas stocking was extra full this year, thanks to a $15 million donation from James and Marilyn Simons. The gift from the billionaire former hedge fund manager and his wife is to date the largest single gift ever made to an East Harlem organization and one of the largest ever given to support K-12 education in New York City.

Founded in 1958, EHTP operates after-school programs and charter schools in the East Harlem area. Recently, the organization launched its Campaign For East Harlem, an initiative designed to construct a first-class classroom facility, expand its programs, and provide scholarships to boost college completion rates among students from East Harlem. EHTP hopes to raise $45 million in the campaign, and the gift from the Simons will put the organization well on its way toward meeting that goal.

EHTP can point to a number of successes as it strives to meet the Campaign For East Harlem's goals. More than 95% of kindergarteners at the East Harlem Scholars Academy charter school completed the school year reading at grade level — far more than the 4 percent who started the school year reading at that level. In addition, 93% of the 2013 seniors in EHTP's after-school program graduated high school on time and enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college.

The Simons themselves are no strangers to EHTP. Marilyn Simons is president of the Simons Foundation and an EHTP board member. James Simons, meanwhile, is the founder of Math for America, a nonprofit which aims to improve math and science education in U.S. schools, and which is funded in part by the Simons Foundation. The $15 million gift to EHTP was a personal contribution from the Simons rather than a foundation grant. 

Large gifts such as this are nothing new for the Simons. Previously, the couple made one of the largest single contributions to a U.S. college or university, giving $150 million to Stonybrook University. As for their gift to EHTP, both James and Marilyn Simons expressed admiration for EHTP, noting its past successes and the importance of its mission.