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This story is a bit more than a year old, but it remains relevant as an update on the education “reforms” favored by the mammoth Walton Family Foundation.
It has spent more than a billion on its far-right, free-market vision of school reform. The foundation estimates that it has provided funding for one of every four new charters in the country.
Make no mistake. The Waltons, beneficiaries of the Walmart stores, don’t like public schools. They like privately managed schools. They like vouchers. They believe that school choice is the answer to education equality and ultimately to eliminating poverty.
Note that the Walton-funded charters rely on Teach for America for a large chunk of their staff. That explains why the Waltons are the single biggest contributor to TFA.
Since Walmart is known for paying low wages, the Walton family knows a thing or two about poverty. Instead of opening charters, it could probably accomplish more by paying its workers $10 an hour and allowing them to work full-time jobs.
But, no, taking over the public schools of the United States is so much more appealing to a family of billionaires than paying a living wage to their 1.4 million employees. And it costs less.
In 2014, the foundation spent $202 million on education, overwhelmingly in support of charters and vouchers.
In 2013, the Walton foundation spent more than $164 million across the country. According to Marc Sternberg, who was appointed director of K-12 education reform at the Walton Family Foundation last September, Walton has given grants to one in every four charter start-ups in the country, for a total of $335 million.
“The Walton Family Foundation has been deeply committed to a theory of change, which is that we have a moral obligation to provide families with high quality choices,” said Mr. Sternberg. “We believe that in providing choices we are also compelling the other schools in an ecosystem to raise their game.”
The supporters and critics of charter schools, many of them fierce, cannot be easily divided into political camps. Supporters include both Republicans and Democrats, although critics tend to come more from the left. In Washington, where the charter system has strong backing in City Hall, supporters have been more successful than in New York, where opposition from teachers unions and others has kept charter school enrollment to about 6 percent, despite growth in the past decade.
The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education — including teacher evaluations based on student test scores and publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.
“The influence of philanthropy in terms of the bang for the buck they get is just really kind of shocking,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
A separate Walton foundation that supports higher education bankrolls an academic department at the University of Arkansas in which faculty, one of whom was recruited from conservative think tank, conduct research on charter schools, voucher programs and other policies the foundation supports.
The Walton-funded Department of Education Reform regularly studies vouchers, charters, and choice. What do you think they find? The independent evaluator, chosen by the Republican leaders in Congress, of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program holds as chair in the Walton’s Department of Education Reform.
Is there another country in the world where tax-exempt foundations have decided to destroy their nation’s public education system and replace it with a privatized system?