Losing Amazon Could Be the Best Thing to Happen to Philly Schools

While some folks are lamenting that Philly did not become Amazon City II, I, for one, am not (apparently, neither is Will Bunch from the Inquirer). 

To see that a coalition of businessmen and political leaders came together to promise 5.5 billion dollars to a company that doesn’t directly impact the outcomes we have struggled with in our most oppressed communities seems outright nuts to me. 

I absolutely love our city, but we have some deep issues that we can’t continue to ignore. We have high numbers of families below the “poverty line.” We rank amongst the poorest largest cities. We have an ongoing drug addiction issue. And, despite small improvements, we struggle to graduate students from neighborhood schools.

To help my younger students wrap their brains around exactly how much a billion is, I used to tell them to think of it as one thousand millions. Now do that until you reach five billion plus. Incredible.

If we fully invest in our neighborhood schools, I can guarantee that the world’s next innovators will come from Philly’s languishing neighborhood schools. Invest in our communities and you’ll see us evolve beyond the shame of being the largest city with the deepest and most entrenched levels of generational poverty. We can shed it the same way that Amazon shed us. 

An organization like Amazon wouldn’t have  helped fix our schools or the chasm in wages. The owner already is on a short list of people with more money than half the people on the planet. There is evidence that Amazon may even exacerbate poverty.

If we heavily invest in the people closest to the issue of poverty, and don’t do the insane things (like claiming Pennsylvania’s schools have enough money or that there is not enough money to fully invest in schools) to undermine them, our city will finally earn the aspirational moniker of the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Will Bunch says, losing the amazing sweepstakes is a win for Philly because it gives Philly an opportunity to address income inequality before it becomes “too late” like it is in places like San Francisco and Seattle. He further asserts:

…cities that struggle to provide good schools and basic services offering to throw billions of dollars of subsidies at a highly profitable tech firm whose owner is already the richest man on the planet was beyond obscene.

And before you give me the thousand times debunked trickle-down theory and Reaganomics, know that our high school drop outs would be likely excluded from the largess. The new employees with nice paychecks that Amazon would hire would not be from our neighborhoods that are starved of resources and starved of alumni with degrees. 

What we would be guaranteed to see is an increase in the rapid gentrification happening in our poorest neighborhoods.

We need these same coalition of people who “lost” the Amazon sweepstakes to modify their plan and bring a 5.5 billion dollar plan to our community schools.

That would most certainly reap dividends for generations to come and reposition Philly as a world class city.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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