Corporate Governance

When OCIDA gave Amazon $71 million in tax breaks, a lot of us were left wondering what Jeff Bezos—the wealthiest man on the planet—could possibly need all that money for. Now we have 2.5% of the answer. He’s going to give $1.75 million of that money back to the public as a donation to the new countywide STEAM school that will soon be operating out of the old Central High building.

But that money comes with strings attached. It’s for “robotics and computer science programs” because Amazon’s new warehouse “will depend heavily on robotics for fulfilling orders and Amazon wants to help train the next generation of workers.” And Amazon very pointedly left the A (for Arts) out of STEAM in its statement on the donation:

“We want to inspire the next generation of innovators to explore opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, so we’re proud to partner with Onondaga County—which we will soon call home—to increase access to STEM education for thousands of local students for years to come. We hope they’ll join our team at Amazon one day and teach us a thing or two as they build their careers here.”

We’re outsourcing curriculum design to a private corporation that is explicitly and primarily interested in bending public education to serve its own interests. And all it cost Amazon was $1.75 million that we had already given them in the first place.

It’s not hard to imagine this pattern repeating in other areas of local government. Amazon paying for improved bus service to its warehouse even when that money would have a greater impact increasing service on high-ridership lines, say.

The STEAM school is still worth getting excited about, and it’s better that Amazon spends $1.75 million there than on stock dividends or whatever. But in a more just world, Amazon would have just paid its whole tax bill (like the rest of us), that would have covered almost the entire $74 million cost of building the STEAM school, and educators would have retained control over the school’s curriculum.