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Former US Senator Mary Landrieu Works for the Walton Foundation

November 11, 2015

In December 2014, “the last Deep South Democrat in the US Senate,” Senator Mary Landrieu, lost a runoff election to Republican challenger, Bill Cassidy. It was the first time in 138 years that Louisiana did not have a Democrat in the US Senate.

mary landrieu  Mary Landrieu

Landrieu had held the Senate seat for 18 years and was particularly influential over the oil and gas industry in her role as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. However, Landrieu had “become the Beltway”; she no longer kept a residence in Louisiana and and used her parents’ residence to qualify for her latest Louisiana run. It turns out her primary residence is in Washington, DC.

Moreover, from her almost-two-decade Beltway vantage point, Landrieu had become a powerful promoter of charter schools and the test-score-based reform. As National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) CEO Nina Rees wrote in the following excerpt regarding Landrieu’s December 2014 Senate loss:

“A Real Loss for Charter Schools” (Originally entitled, “Sen. Mary Landrieu’s Loss: A Real Blow for Charter Schools”)

The recent defeat of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy means the Senate is losing one of its strongest supporters of education reform, and of charter schools in particular.

Soon after entering the Senate in 1997, Landrieu joined with Democratic colleagues such as Joseph Lieberman, Evan Bayh and John Breaux to reimagine the federal role in education. Their fundamental objective was granting states more freedom and flexibility in exchange for results, a concept that led to the bipartisan passage of what is now known as the No Child Left Behind Act. Landrieu also seized the mantle of public charter schools like no other senator, even before New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina and jumpstarted its recovery by turning all its schools into charter schools. She pushed hard for myriad projects aimed at supporting the growth of charter schools throughout the nation.

To Landrieu, the fight for charters was at the heart of the struggle to put the word “public” back into public education. She understood that the only way to catapult children out of poverty is by offering them a high-quality education – and that the only way to offer this education is by encouraging entrepreneurs to open new schools energized by new thinking and proven practices. Landrieu used her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that funds were reaching these innovative schools.

There you have it, America: Charter schools are better just because they are. If charter proponents write that charters are “high quality,” “energized,” and “proven,” then that makes them so. No established empirical support or systematic oversight needed.

Rees continues by stating that she expects Landrieu “to continue to play a role in education reform.”

How right she is.

In late April 2015, Landrieu became a “strategic advisor” to the Walton Family Foundation (WFF), a major supporter of charter schools. (This WFF job description has WFF K-12 spending topping $1 billion over the last 20 years.)

According to its website, WFF is seeking to expand charter schools in the following states/cities:

Targeted Districts for Public Charter School Grants

Only public charter schools drawing a majority of their students from these districts may apply for Walton Family Foundation funds:

  • Arkansas: Any District
  • California: Los Angeles Unified School District [Map of specific boundaries]; Oakland Unified School District
  • Colorado: Denver Public Schools
  • Georgia: Atlanta Public Schools
  • Indiana: Indianapolis Public Schools
  • Louisiana: Orleans Parish
  • Massachusetts: Boston Public Schools
  • New Jersey: Camden City School District
  • New York: New York City
  • Oklahoma: Any District
  • Tennessee: Memphis City Proper
  • Texas: Houston Independent School District; San Antonio Independent School District
  • Washington, D.C.: District of Columbia Public Schools

The Waltons do operate by strategy. However, theirs is the common corporate reform top-down strategy of offering cash for that WFF values– and where.

Surely Landrieu could come in handy for the Waltons and their charter-expanding WFF– even if she is a Democrat.

Journalist Lisa Ranghelli of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) reflects on Landrieu’s new job at WFF– and her new position on the WFF-funded NAPCS board in this May 08, 2015, NCRP blog post:

Last week, the Times-Picayune reported that former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has assumed a new role since leaving office in December: paid strategic adviser to the Walton Family Foundation (WFF). Landrieu explained her role at the foundation in an interview,

“I’ll be working directly as a strategic adviser for the Walton Education Foundation promoting reforms in public schools, promoting choice and expansion of high quality charter schools. Most people are recognizing that New Orleans is one of the most exciting models for variety and choice that are producing new options and opportunities for educational success.”

The article also mentioned that Landrieu recently joined the board of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a WFF grantee that happens to be celebrating National Charter Schools Week.

Ranghelli continues by noting that WFF is more careful about engaging stakeholders in its marine investments than it is in its charter imposition:

…NCRP’s new Philamplify report on the Walton Family Foundation, …found that WFF uses an adaptive, effective approach in its marine conservation work, bringing unlikely allies to the table, engaging diverse constituencies and responding to local conditions. In contrast, WFF’s education strategy is focused almost singularly, as Landrieu says, on creating and expanding high quality charter schools, and also promoting state laws that create a more favorable (i.e. less regulated) environment for charters. 

WFF’s education approach only engages constituents that are already pro-charter, leaving out the vast majority of public school parents, students and teachers, who all have a stake in thriving school systems that succeed in educating all students regardless of zip code, race, income, special ed label or English Language Learner (ELL) status. [Emphasis added.]

Now, based upon its 2016-20 strategic plan, WFF has decided to address the “accusation” that WFF uses “a top-down approach that does not adequately address the needs and desires of parents, local advocacy groups, and community groups,” not by asking these parents or other locals if they would prefer for WFF to instead invest in traditional community schools, but instead by trying to drum up grass roots support for choice the Walton way– which is surely not by ditching its clearly-intended charter school expansion in favor of elected-board-run local schools likely populated by teachers allowed to choose union membership.

(See the end of this post for a leaked Walmart employee training video that includes anti-union propaganda.)

According to Ranghetti, WFF has not achieved its desired grass roots buy-in because people in general do not view charter school expansion as a priority:

If WFF did listen to a broader range of voices, it might discover that “choice” is a very low priority for many parents. In a recent poll commissioned by In the Public Interest and the Center for Popular Democracy, voters cite “lack of parental involvement, too much focus on standardized tests, cuts to school funding and class size as the biggest problems facing K-through-12 education. Lack of school choice ranks dead last on their list of concerns.”

But the Waltons will not be deterred. From 2016 to 2020, WFF plans upon “building an active coalition of supporters” and “cultivating local advocacy partners” for their charter school push.

And that is where Landrieu comes in. She is to help WFF strategize, and that 2016-20 strategy includes spending $250 million on three cities/locales in particular– New Orleans, Denver, and DC– in order to make these cities “achieve the same college and career readiness rates citywide as those achieved by the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).”

Forget asking local stakeholders about any possible downside to KIPP (and here and here and here and here and here, for example). WFF holds KIPP up as a model with results worthy of emulation.

It’s all settled, then.

Walton knows what it wants, and Landrieu is now on the WFF payroll to “advise” the Walton intentions into existence.

And now…

As to that Walmart anti-union employee training video, see minute 2:22 in the 9-minute video below:


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education (April 2014, Information Age Publishing).

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? (June 2015, TC Press).

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Theory of charter school capture in large metro districts is that you go for 50% of the market, meaning half of students of the public system are moved to charters. Then you recruit a few more to tip the balance and the whole system is effectively in private hands and the spoils of control go to those who have been first to create these conditions. There are some districts that have already been captured, charterized, and some are near the tipping point for takeover. In more than one state the district takeover has been engineered by putting ALEC’s convoluted A,B,C,D, E performance. measures in place, worse than AYP, to garantee failure. In Ohio, the public schools in Cleveland, Dayton,Akron, and Cincinnati are at the threshold of being treated like Youngstown public schools, now you see, now you don’t.

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