Amazon is announcing a $2 million grant to help Seattle school students. But the focus isn’t the latest shiny education technology. Instead, it’s that missing raincoat, a weekend backpack full of food, or unaffordable school supplies.
Amazon’s donation to the Alliance for Education, which is an organization that works closely with Seattle Public Schools, will create what the company calls a new “Right Now Needs Fund” to meet the urgent needs of individual students. The Alliance will administer the grant, designed to cover the current 2018-19 and the following 2019-20 school years.
The only condition, Amazon says, is that fund spending has to directly benefit students and can’t replace items currently in the district’s budget.
“The Alliance for Education has a track record of administering on-the-ground programs that effectively support success for students and teachers,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon SVP & general counsel and Alliance for Education board member, in a statement. “We worked hard with the Alliance to create a flexible source of funding so each school can quickly decide how to best serve their students.”
Amazon says the Alliance will distribute the funds to schools based on student needs, with higher poverty schools getting more support. Some 31 of Seattle’s 103 public schools are considered “Title 1” schools by the federal government, educating a large proportion of kids from low-income families. More broadly, more than 18,000 students are said to receive free and reduced lunch across the Seattle school district.
Amazon, in making the donation, pointed out it also supports STEM and computer science education, as well as other programs that address childhood hunger and family homelessness. In addition, Amazon has donated to the Families Yes campaign that promotes the Nov. 6 ballot measure called the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise Levy.
Amazon’s more direct involvement in education with its own edtech products and services has a more spotty history, with the company earlier this year stating it would shutter its TenMarks business and end its TenMarks Math and Writing products after the 2018-19 school year. Amazon was also largely a no-show at the huge International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Chicago in June, after having had a large presence in previous years.
The grant to the Alliance is another way for Amazon to play a supporting role in education, and to support its hometown of Seattle, even as it continues to pursue a second headquarters city. It comes one month after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos separately committed $2 billion to his “Day One Fund,” a philanthropic initiative to help homeless families and promote preschool education.
“The opportunity gap facing children from low income families has been a persistent problem in our community, and it is widening,” said Lisa Chick, the Alliance’s president and CEO, in the announcement of the grant. “We are grateful for Amazon’s generosity and understanding that to be successful in education we need to support the basic needs of children. These funds will help us directly address closing the opportunity gap in Seattle.”