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IS AMAZON CEO’S EDUCATION FUND SAVING KIDS OR HIMSELF?

September 14, 2018

Jeff Bezos and his Amazon.com billions are in the news for something other than his ability earn money at an eye-watering pace—or trying to squeeze public funds from municipalities for the company’s new global headquarters. The CEO took to Twitter on Thursday to announce the Bezos Day One Fund, a $2 billion pool that will finance existing non-profit organizations which assist homeless families, and will build a new network of tier-one pre-schools in low-income communities.

‘The Day 1 Families Fund will issue annual leadership awards to organizations and civic groups doing compassionate, needle-moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families,” Bezos said in his statement.

He went on to mention the Day 1 Academies Fund which “will launch and operate a network of high quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.” It is commendable that Bezos is giving back in a way that addresses a foundational issue in an education system riddled with under-funding, and a government that put Betsy Devos in charge of the schooling of millions of children.

That said, hearing hearing one of the richest men in modern history maintain that “the child will be the customer” is not a very comforting notion. Let’s unpack the grim implications of embracing the privatization of education, to the point that Bezos can boldly describe it through the lens of consumerism.

In a 1999 shareholder letter, Bezos wrote, “Our customers have made our business what it is, and we consider them to be loyal to us—right up until the second that someone else offers them a better service.” Children should not be “customers” and the steady shift to the privatization of basic amenities – because of incompetent governing practices – should alarm us all. The education of our children should not be left to the mercy of a seemingly benevolent billionaire who hails from the same class of people that use their vast wealth to encourage the emptying of state coffers through predatory fly-by-night tax policies.

Jeff Bezos is not going to save us; and the 1.2% of his staggering net-worth that he is dedicating to homeless families and pre-schools will not change that. Growing comfortable with this kind of status quo invites in a litany of precedents that could be damaging to the working class. Amazon has fought the establishment of unions since its inception 24 years ago, and that unyielding position in the wake of Amazon workers going on strike across Europe in protest of bad pay and poor working conditions won’t be overshadowed by a fund. The Washington Post reported that “thousands of Amazon employees rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) to make ends meet.” The Post quotes a report by the New Food Economy that also goes on to say “as many as 1 in 3 Amazon employees in Arizona — and about 1 in 10 in Pennsylvania and Ohio — receive food stamps.”

If Bezos paid Amazon employees a living wage, he might not even need the $2 billion band-aid meant to help the same class of people that work for him. How is an Amazon worker supposed to feel hearing about a considerable amount of money going to schools that will likely be used by their own children because they cannot afford to feed or adequately educate their family on an Amazon paycheck?

So, as we try and address the staggering wealth gap between the 1% and the bottom 90%, billionaires using their wealth to help homeless and low-income families is a dream scenario. However, we only have Jeff’s track record to work with and it does not paint a pretty picture. If Bezos and Amazon don’t do the real work of uplifting their workers, then the Day One Fund will only help by meeting the increasing demand of children whose parents cannot afford a proper education. Jeff Bezos, a man neither elected nor appointed by the will of the people, will be responsible for educating a portion of American children. If this is the future of education, Amazon workers aren’t the only ones who should be terrified.

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