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The "Oscars of Teaching" Roll Out the Red Carpet: Milken Educator Awards Return to Honor Great Teachers Across the USA

Recognizing unsung school heroes for more than 30 years, the Milken Family Foundation surprises worthy teachers nationwide with $25,000 gifts

September 16, 2019

SANTA MONICA, Calif., — Back to school season marks a fresh start for America's greatest resource — innovative and dedicated teachers. And each fall, the Milken Educator Awards embarks on a coast-to-coast tour with a unique itinerary: to surprise the nation's most inspirational, transformational teachers in front of their schools with individual $25,000 cash prizes and new opportunities to broaden their educational impact at every level.

Hailed by Teacher magazine as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards inspire and uplift with stories of dedicated educators going the extra mile for their students, colleagues and communities. But which states and schools the 2019-2020 tour will visit are top secret until each award is announced. Neither honoree nor school knows what's happening before the Milken Family Foundation's award is given to the educator at an all-school assembly packed with cheering students, appreciative colleagues, state and local officials, as well as the media.

Lowell Milken, chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, explained the rationale for the Award, which he created and first presented in 1987. "A talented educator can change the trajectory of a student's life," said Milken. "Milken Educators lead the young people in their classrooms and schools to achieve academically, while preparing them to make the most of life's opportunities as they move through their education and into a highly complex world. It is no exaggeration to say that exemplary educators are doing nothing less than laying the foundation for our nation's future."

Research shows that teacher quality is the driving in-school factor behind student performance. In fact, the most effective teachers produce up to five times the learning gains of those least effective. And in an era when U.S. students must increasingly compete with students worldwide for opportunities, the Milken Educator Award's motto has never been more salient: "The future belongs to the educated."

The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

In creating the Award, Lowell Milken also intended to spur student interest in the teaching profession. Indeed, since the Award's inception, more than two million students have witnessed a teacher being celebrated with the fanfare typically associated with actors and athletes. Many of these students have gone on to teach, with a few being named Milken Educators themselves!

Along with the financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education.

The 2019-20 honorees will also attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis March 26-28, 2020, where they will network with their new colleagues and exchange ideas with state and federal leaders on the future of education. In addition, the Milken Educator Awards' "Why Not Us" program will pair each 2019 recipient with a veteran Milken Educator mentor to explore and prepare for expanded leadership roles that strengthen education practice and policy.

  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • The Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators; this season honors secondary school teachers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways; for instance, on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even on the adoption of children.  

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Everyone is encouraged to watch the tour at,, and

For more information, visit or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.


About the Milken Educator Awards
The very first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The Awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish.

Lynne Russo | Cell: (818) 903-6079 | Email: