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The Walton Presence in Louisiana K12 Education (Still Watching for a 2019 BESE-Influencing Money Dump)

August 28, 2019

I have been watching for the billionaire Walton influence in the upcoming, October 2019 elections of Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and secondary Education (BESE).

On August 21, 2019, I posted about the disbanding of the Louisiana PAC (Louisiana businessman Lane Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC) used to funnel $3M in out-of-state billionaire money into Louisiana’s 2015 BESE election. Siblings Jim and Alice Walton pumped $650K into that election and subsequent, November 2015, runoff via that single Louisiana PAC, with Alice and Jim each donating $200K to the BESE primary and Jim donating an additional $250K for the runoff. Grigsby used the money to advertise for specific ed-reform candidates and against specific traditional-ed candidates.

alice-and-jim-walton

billionaire siblings Alice and Jim Walton

By August 2015, both Alice and Jim had already made their $200K donations to influence the 2015 BESE race, with both donations being made on August 20, 2015. (To verify, search via name here.)

(Also on August 20, 2015, the same day that Jim Walton donated $200K to Empower Louisiana PAC, he also donated $100K to La. Federation for Children PAC and $250K to Stand for Children IEC.)

Since the Empower Louisiana PAC has been disbanded prior to the 2019 BESE election, that specific vehicle for Walton and other out-of-state billionaire money into Louisiana’s BESE races is no more.

Even so, the Walton influence in Louisiana is far from gone.

In December 2018, Jim Walton donated $100K to the Louisiana Federation for Children Action Fund, a PAC to which he has donated in the past ($35K in October 2016 and $50K in March 2017).

The chairperson for Louisiana Federation for Children Action Fund is Eddie Rispone (see here and here and here), who is running for Louisiana governor in October 2019. Incumbent, Governor Jon Bel Edwards, is not in the corporate-ed-reform pocket.

Louisiana Federation for Children is a state affiliate of American Federation for Children, the national, school choice organization formerly chaired by US secretary of education Betsy DeVos.

Usually, the Louisiana’s governor chooses the state superintendent of education and BESE formally votes to approve the governor’s choice; however, in 2015, Edwards did not get to choose a new state ed superintendent because the pro-corporate-reform BESE majority was enough to retain Louisiana’s Teach for America (TFA) alum superintendent, John White, on a month-to-month basis. (In 2015, ed reform captured 7 of 11 BESE seats, and it would have taken 8 votes to either approve a new superintendent or offer White a new contract.)

White spends a notable amount of time with the Waltons.

According to White’s ethics filings, on August 05, 2019, he attended a Walton family Foundation (WFF) board meeting in Santa Monica, CA, and was reimbursed $1280 by WFF for his attendance. This particular filing is also the first since May 2018 in which he did not approve his own trip. (In this instance he started to then crossed out his name.)

This is not White’s first WFF meeting; he has attended WFF meetings on the Walton dime in August 2012, September 2014, and January 2017.

White is also a regular at TFA meetings on the TFA dime, the most recent being a TFA Advisory/Strategic Advisory Council meeting in Houston in March 2019.

White’s past TFA meeting attendance on TFA dime includes a July 18, 2012, TFA board meeting and July 26, 2012, TFA policy discussion; an October 2013 TFA benefit dinner; a May 2015 TFA meeting *not otherwise defined*; the February 2016 TFA 25th Anniversary Summit; a September 2016 TFA recruitment at the University of Virginia; a November 2017 TFA leadership team meeting, and the October 2018 Teach for All global conference.

And to bring this Walton post full circle, WFF has been a longtime supporter of TFA and its “strategy,” for example, paying TFA $14.4M in 2018 “to recruit and cultivate TFA leaders in 15 regions.”

WFF has been financially supporting TFA almost since TFA’s inception; between 1993 and 2018, WFF doled out over $155M to this teacher temp org that specializes in cataputling superficially-classroomed alumni like White into ed policy and leadership positions.

And, of course, let us not forget the Walton penchant for school choice; WFF now has “partner organizations” to offer Walton money for charter startups, one of which is specific to Louisiana:

  • Charter School Growth Fund
  • The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
  • Building Excellent Schools
  • NewSchools Venture Fund
  • Silicon Schools
  • The City Fund
  • New Schools for Baton Rouge
  • Education Forward DC

Interestingly, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is not listed among the WFF “target districts”:

The foundation’s strategy is to focus grants on a limited number of districts to make significant changes in those locations. Only public charter schools drawing a majority of their students from the following districts may apply:

  • 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 School Board
  • Massachusetts: Boston Public Schools
  • New Jersey: Camden City School District
  • New York: New York City
  • Oklahoma: Any District
  • Tennessee: Shelby County Schools
  • Texas: Houston Independent School District; San Antonio Metro Area
  • Washington, D.C.: District of Columbia Public Schools

What is clear is that the Waltons spend on ed reform and on ed reformers to spread Walton-desired outcomes. State boundaries do not matter. Walton money continues to permeate Louisiana K12 education.

Nevertheless, I continue to be cautiously encouraged by the noticeable lack of cash donated by Alice and Jim Walton (and Michael Bloomberg, and Eli Broad) to any Louisiana PAC in an effort to manipulate Louisiana’s 2019 BESE election.

The next filing in late September will be telling. At that point it should be clear if the Waltons and other out-of-state billionaires are funneling cash through other Louisiana PACs now that Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC is no longer in operation.

Cautiously encouraged. Still watching.

magnifying glass money

_________________________________________________________________________

Interested in scheduling Mercedes Schneider for a speaking engagement? Click here.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

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.

both books

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

One Comment
  1. Kathy Edmonston Gmail permalink

    When you have a moment, go to YRUTH FOR OUR CHILDREN page. There you will find archived videos from a conference held in Central at Greenwell Springs Baptist church. Very very informative!!!

    Have a good evening

    Kathy Edmonston BESE 6 225-328-5832 c

    P.S. I announced in April that I would not be seeking re-election for BESE. Several weeks later I learned that my house rep. Was retiring. I’m runnng for his seat.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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