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The Waltons and Their Charter-Choice “Inroads”: Making Strategic Purchases

December 26, 2018

On December 24, 2018, the Associated Press (AP) published this article about the billionaire Walton family’s attempts to purchase “like minded” persons of color in order to advance charter schools in America. From the AP article:

Amid fierce debate over whether charter schools are good for black students, the heirs to the Walmart company fortune have been working to make inroads with advocates and influential leaders in the black community.

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data.

“Those closest to the challenge often have the best solution,” Marc Sternberg, who leads the Walton Family Foundation’s education efforts, said in a prepared statement.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, are often located in urban areas with large back populations, intended as alternatives to struggling city schools. Black enrollment in charters has doubled over the course of a decade, to more than 760,000 students as of 2015-16, according to the latest federal data, but the rise also has been marked by concerns about racial segregation, inconsistent student outcomes, and the hollowing-out of neighborhood public schools.

When I first saw the AP article, my mind immediately turned to the Walton Family Foundation’s (WFF) 2016-2020 strategic plan for the spread of school choice and how WFF wants to “create” a bottom-up, parent-engaged base in favor of the school choice that it promotes from the top– but WFF doesn’t want to be accused of being “top down” in this effort. I wrote about the WFF charter plan in this October 29, 2016, post. An excerpt:

From their perch at the top, the Waltons need to get the parents (the bottom) on their side:

One area where the Foundation has received criticism is in the area of community engagement. It has been accused of having a top-down approach that does not adequately address the needs and desires of parents, local advocacy groups, and community groups. This is an issue the Foundation is grappling with. “The provision of choice, and the publication of data on school performance, has sometimes had little impact, especially in districts where reform lacks adequate local ownership, community and wider civic involvement, and parent engagement,” [Walton Foundation Senior Advisor] Bruno Manno notes. He identifies two levers in engaging local partners and communities more thoroughly: 1) building an active coalition of supporters, and 2) cultivating local advocacy partners. “We need a local and civic base of support for the work that’s going on. The work we support requires a stable constituency to be advocates for schools over time. There is a political dimension as well, the community and families need to understand what options are available.” …

Thus, it comes as no wonder that the Waltons are trying to purchase grass-roots support for charter schools by “spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders,” as the AP notes.

But don’t think for a minute that the Waltons are focused only on the grass-roots-r-us angle: The are very much involved in shoveling millions into political action committees (PACs) in order to get school-choice-friendly candidates elected and otherwise advance school choice referenda. I even noted as much in my October 2016 blog post referenced above with this opener:

In September 2015, Jim and Alice Walton contributed a combined $400,000 to a Louisiana PAC in order to influence the October 2015 Louisiana state board of education election.

The Waltons have an eye on Louisiana, and it has to do with school choice in New Orleans.

Billionaire siblings Jim and Alice Walton seem to be the two key Waltons pumping their money into school choice around the country. In September 2016, I wrote about the $1.8M that these two poured into Massachusetts’ Question 2 ballot initiative, a failed effort to raise the charter cap in MA:

According to the September 09, 2016, filing of the Massachusetts ballot committee, Yes on 2, billionaire Arkansas resident Alice Walton is one of two individuals providing the $710,100 in funding to promote MA Question 2, raising the charter school cap.

Alice Walton provided $710,000.

A second contributor, Massachusetts resident Frank Perullo provided $100 in order to establish the committee.

And then, the Alice Walton cash was moved to another Question 2 ballot committee: $703,770.29 of Alice Walton’s Yes on 2 committee money was expended to fund Question 2 ballot committee, Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools, where it was combined with billionaire Arkansas resident Jim Walton’s contribution of $1,125,000, thus making the total Walton contribution to the two committees $1,835,000 (and total Walton contribution to the latter committee, $1,828,770.29).

The Campaign for Fair Access total on its Sept 09, 2016, filing was $2,292,183 for 43 contributors– with 79 percent of that money ($1,828,770 / $2,292183) arriving from two out-of-state billionaires.

In other words, 95 percent of contributors (41 out of 43) provided only 21 percent of the total funding on the Campaign for Fair Access Sept 2016 report.

I can almost hear the conversation between Alice and Jim:

“You buy this Massachusetts ballot committee, and I’ll buy that one.”

“Done.”

And so it goes, and continues to go, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports in this December 26, 2018, article, entitled, “Pro-Charter School Walmart Heirs Jump in Chicago Mayoral, Aldermanic Contests”:

With major financial help from the billionaire heirs of the Arkansas-based Walmart fortune, the PACs related to the Illinois Network of Charter Schools are aiming to become a political force in the upcoming Chicago mayoral and aldermanic campaigns. …

An independent expenditure PAC can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors. However, the money cannot be given directly to a candidate. An independent expenditure PAC runs its own campaign to support or oppose a contender. …

Members of the Walton family, one of the wealthiest in the U.S., are active nationally in bankrolling pro-charter organizations, causes and candidates supporting school choice. …

…Direct political contributions from individual Walton family members to the INCS PACs are continuing at robust levels.

•Alice Walton, the daughter of Helen and Sam Walton, has donated almost $1.4 million to the two INCS PACs between 2015 and this month, most of it to the independent expenditure committee, according to state disclosure records.

On Dec. 19, Alice Walton contributed $250,000 to the INCS Action Independent Committee.

•Her brother, Jim Walton, also gave $250,000 to the same committee on Dec. 19. Since 2015, he has donated $543,800 to the two PACS, state disclosure records show.

Yes, there are other Waltons financing school choice, but the team of Alice and Jim, Jim and Alice seem to be at the core of it all if one examines the dollars these two dole out (which one can do easily to some degree for Alice simply by reading my October 18, 2018 post, “A 50-State-Plus-DC Exploration of Alice Walton’s Political Contributions”).

One last word about the Waltons and charters: In 2012, WFF funded the New Orleans charter application, the OneApp, which was a misnomer from the outset because not all charter schools used it (in fact, the most popular charters did not), and some that did use the OneApp also used other procedures about which not all parents might have been informed. In 2013, I wrote a lengthy post about navigating the third-round OneApp, an application that included multiple errors about available schools and listed mostly D- and F-graded charter schools for parents to choose from.

It is 2018, and the Walton-funded OneApp is still in use, with more schools using it but still with New Orleans having a small number of in-demand charter schools and the rest, well, picked over.

But picked-over schools need students, too, and, according to one New Orleans parent, the OneApp ensures that those schools get students:

The one app is really a tool to ensure failing schools and new start ups have students.. Before the one app they struggled to get students but now they are guaranteed students no matter what.

It was never about parents having access to better schools because those schools were not required to even participate initially and now it’s still limited participation

Hm.

Those who might argue that the Walton-funded OneApp is working must also face the reality that New Orleans’ white students are concentrated in A-B-graded charters, and very few if any white students end up in D-F charters.

This is what the Waltons are purchasing in New Orleans, and the AP article at the outset of this post includes racial segregation among charter schools as a concern.

No problem. Jim and Alice, Alice and Jim (and WFF; let us not forget WFF), will simply purchase grass-rootsy people not to tackle any charter school problem but to do what Alice and Jim, Jim and Alice, and their appendaged WFF determine to be the goal:

Sell the idea of school choice.

Just sell the idea, and leave the funding to us.

alice-and-jim-walton

Alice and Jim Walton

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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4 Comments
  1. Laura H. Cahpman permalink

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also gives money to groups who will serve as advocates for the agenda of the Gates Foundation, and that includes big support for charter schools, as seen is their end of year letter on eduction priorities.

  2. Linda permalink

    Neither of David Brock’s media, Share Blue nor Media Matters reported on the Los Angeles strike today. A couple of years ago Deutsch 29 noticed and brought attention to the fact that Media Matters omitted the names of Walton and Gates in an article about the right wing war against public education. So, I’m not surprised.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How Are the Walton Billionaires Like Putin and the Russians? | Diane Ravitch's blog
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