Accountability Arkansas Billionaires Charter Schools Corporate Reformers Education Industry Education Reform Little Rock Privatization Teachers Unions Walton Foundation

“LilSis” Maps the Walton Billionaires Who Are Crushing the Teachers, Parents, and Public Schools of Little Rock

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LilSis (also known as the Public Accountability Project) pays careful attention to the networks and money behind nefarious efforts to destroy the public sector.

In this report, LilSis describes the corporate backers of school privatization against whom Little Rock teachers went on strike. The money behind this network of interlinking organizations and individuals is the Walton family, whose wealth clocked in at $163 Billion (that’s Billion with a B) in 2018.

LilSis writes:

A major backer of the anti-union, pro-charter agenda in Arkansas is the Walton family, whose foundation is a huge funder of the school privatization infrastructure that exists across the state. In addition to the Waltons, corporate elites from Murphy Oil, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Democrat Gazetteand others are backers of the school privatization efforts. These corporate interests are close to Governor Hutchinson, who supports their agenda, and they have close ties to the state Board of Education. In addition, they are also interlocked with a host of lobbyists and academics that push their agenda…

The Waltons are major advocate of charter schools nationally, and they carry out their school privatization agenda through their Walton Family Foundation, which showers hundreds of millions on pro-charter groups and schools. The foundation claims it has invested a whopping $407 million into pushing charter schools since 1997.According to a recent report put out by the Arkansas Education Association, the Waltons pump millions into propping up the state’s school privatization infrastructure – or what the report calls the “Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire.” 

It’s not just that the Waltons give big money to a few groups – it’s also that these groups then distribute that money to other organizations, lobbyists, consultants, and academics, creating a vast network of billionaire-funded activity to attack unionized teachers and push charter schools. 

For example, the Walton family Foundation gave $350,000 to the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) in 2017 – around 80% of all the contributions the organization took in that year. 

The AERF board includes other powerful funders and advocates of school privatization in the state, such as Claiborne Deming, the former CEO of Murphy Oil, a big backer of charter schools in Arkansas; William Dillard III, part of the Dilliard family that owns the Dilliard’s department stores; and Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s flagship newspaper. Jim Walton is also on the board.

In addition to the $350,000 that the Walton donated to the AERF in 2017, Deming gave $60,000 and Dilliard III gave $10,000, while the National Christian Foundation gave $15,000, according the the group’s 2017 990 form.

AERF has in turn used the money it receives from the Walton billionaire fortune and other Arkansas elites to fund other school privatization efforts. For example, it gave $115,000 to Arkansas Learns, which describesitself as “the Voice of Business for excellent education options – including industry-relevant career pathways…” The CEO of Arkansas Learns, Gary Newton, is also the Executive Director of the AERF (for which he earned $189,639 in compensation in 2017). 

In turn, Arkansas Learns has the same board members as AERF, and Randy Zook, the CEO of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, whose wife Dianne Zook is on the state Board of Education that decided to end recognition of the Little Rock teachers’ union, is also a board member. Dianne Zook is also the aunt of Gary Newton.

What a cozy and mutually beneficial arrangement: The Waltons have a lot of money to hand out to achieve their goal of privatizing public schools and breaking unions, and the recipients take the money and carry out the Waltons’ wishes.

Any time you see a group called “XXXXXXX for Education Reform,” you can be sure it is committed to charter schools, union-busting, and privatization, and the odds are high that there is Walton money behind it.

The Waltons have claimed credit for subsidizing one of every four charter schools in the nation.

LilSis creates wonderful graphical depictions of networks.

Here is the LilSis graphic of the Little Rock school privatization network. 

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