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Massachusetts Nonprofit, Building Excellent Schools, Receives $57M from Arkansas Waltons

December 28, 2019

The billionaire Walton family spends millions promoting school choice, including fronting money for charter school start-ups. Moreover, the Walton “paths to public charter school startup” advertises a number of “partners,” including Massachusetts-based Building Excellent Schools (BES).

BES received its tax-exempt status in June 2003; however, BES’s “about” page places its beginnings prior to formation of the BES nonprofit, a a resource center in response to “poor academic performance of Massachusetts’ first charter schools.” The BES mission statement from its tax forms indicates BES’s purpose is “to foster the development and ensure the success of charter schools.”

Once BES became a nonprofit, the Waltons immediately began funding BES. In fact, BES’s first tax filing, spanning July 2003 to June 2004 (FY2003) indicates total revenue of $1,670,374– mostly Walton cash:

In 2003, the Waltons gave BES $1,190,000– which equals 71 percent of the BES revenue reported on its initial return– making Massachusetts-based BES instantly dependent upon the Arkansas-based Walton wealth for most of its revenue.

I was curious what percentage of BES revenue derived from the Waltons across the years, so I examined BES total revenue on its tax forms and compared it to BES’s Walton grants as listed on the Walton Family Foundation.

A continuous, year-by-year comparison is not possible: The Walton grants appear to be issued by calendar year, while the BES tax forms were filed by fiscal year (July to June) until 2009, at which time the tax year shifted two months (September to August). Too, for some reason, BES appears not to have filed taxes for July 2005 to June 2006 (FY2005). (Note that I did not contact BES directly to ask.)

However, a general comparison of Walton’s BES funding to BES’s total revenue reveals that the Arkansas-based Waltons are by far the dominant funding source for Massachusetts-based BES:

Walton Funding for Building Excellent Schools (BES):

  • 2003: $1,190,000
  • 2004: $2,060,000
  • 2005: $1,106,000
  • 2006: $3,062,810
  • 2007: $3,426,200
  • 2008: $2,966,700
  • 2009: $1,200,000
  • 2010: $1,758,245
  • 2011: $2,546,200
  • 2012: $3,240,050
  • 2013: $2,826,500 and $283,000
  • 2014: $9,586,991 and $90,000
  • 2015: $4,995,000
  • 2016: $6,181,601
  • 2017: $3,573,487
  • 2018: $3,500,000 and $3,900,000
  • TOTAL: $57,492,784


BES Total Revenue (Except FY2005):

  • FY2003: $1,670,374
  • FY2004: $3,341,391
  • FY2005: ??
  • FY2006: $852,856
  • FY2007: $2,654,260
  • FY2008: $2,347,104 and $147,912
  • FY2009: $2,639,786
  • FY2010: $5,115,679
  • FY2011: $1,655,616
  • FY2012: $6,650,826
  • FY2013: $10,117,504
  • FY2014: $12,301,533
  • FY2015: $8,072,974
  • FY2016: $14,875,583
  • FY2017: $10,852,843
  • TOTAL: $83,296,241


A wrinkle in calculating the exact percentage of Walton funding to BES involves BES’s missing FY2005 tax info.

But let’s estimate. Let’s assume that in FY2005, BES had a fantastic year, with total revenue equal to that of its best reported year thus far (FY2016): $14,875,583. (Not likely that BES’s FY2005 total revenue is half as much, but let’s err in favor of BES.)

That would bring BES’s all-time total revenue to $98,171,824 (that is, $83,296,241 + 14,875,583).

Walton funding would still remain as BES’s dominant funding source at 59 percent ($57,492,784 / $98,171,824 = .586) of BES funding since BES’s 2003 creation as a Massachusetts nonprofit.

Lest anyone think that the Waltons are not salivating over the idea of a burgeoning charter school sector in Massachusetts, one need only read about Jim and Alice Walton’s $1.8M money-funnel toward raising Massachusetts’ charter cap in 2016 via Massachusetts’ ballot measure, Question 2. (On November 08, 2016, Massachusetts voters rejected charter school expansion, 62 percent to 38 percent.)

The Waltons want charter schools in Massachusetts, and they are willing to pay.

Just ask BES.


Siblings, Jim and Alice 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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  1. mercat45 permalink

    As a teacher in her 25th year in public schools in MA, and someone who was personally involved (along with thousands of others in our union) in helping defeat Question 2 on raising the cap, this does not surprise me, but of course concerns me. I will retire in this next decade and as long as there are people like the Waltons, this battle will never be over. Thank you for this column. Happy New Year!

  2. Christine Langhoff permalink

    With the Waltons (and the Kochs) funding our Republican governor, Charlie Baker, it’s no wonder the appointed state board of education, MA DESE, is chock-a-block with Walton devotees. There’s Amanda Fernández, who runs the Walton funded Latinos for Education, Martin West who edits the Walton funded Education Next, and Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, who for seven years was Executive Director of Pioneer Institute, funded by the Waltons (Peyser also founded NewSchool Venture Fund). Former board member Margaret McKenna, president of the Walton Foundation from 2007-2011, was recently replaced with reformster Paymon Rouhanifard, who at 32 was appointed by Chris Christie to run Camden, NJ, after the state takeover. He’s currently a Walton “Entrepreneur In Residence”, according to his LinkedIn page.

    The Waltons have an inside track in Massachusetts, but we work hard – and successfully – to contain them. Despite their pernicious opposition, we recently passed landmark legislation to fund our public schools to the tune of $1.5 billion over the next seven years. The struggle is real.

    • mercat45 permalink

      Yes, the new Education act is something to be excited and optimistic about!!

  3. Jack Covey permalink


    Would you like to read about some of BUILDING EXCELLENT SCHOOLS’ best practices in action?

    Here’s an article that shares some of them, as employed by two recent Building Excellent Schools graduates who, after graduation, went on to operate their own charter school in Tulsa, Oklahoma:


    THE 74:

    “The students’ second touch base is Urueta, whose official title is lead founder and head of school. She welcomes every one with a handshake and a uniform check. Students lift their pant legs and sweatshirts to show Urueta they are wearing plain black or white socks and a black belt. They must be wearing khaki pants and a gray polo shirt. It’s perhaps the strictest rule at Tulsa Honor Academy, which offers uniform scholarships to families who can’t afford them. Still, if a student has so much as a Nike swoosh on their socks, they can’t go to class and must wait in the office until someone brings them socks without a logo.”

    You can’t even see the damn socks or Nike swoosh or the belt color without lifting clothing — pant legs and sweatshirt, respectively. So why do the charter school operators need to impose such a bizarre ritual?

    Folks, this is not about educating; it’s about controlling, and not in a good or healthy way.

    Hmmm …. what other organization also has such ridiculous, mind-numbing, and fascistic rules imposed on their students …err … I mean … “associates”? Could it be the same company that bankrolls Building Excellent Schools’ existence?

    Oh wait, here’s an internal video from that company that has an almost identical khaki’s-and-polo dress code (with that familiar cheesy vest thrown in as well)?

    You know Building Excellent Schools believes that it’s not enough for charter bosses to establish total and minutely-detailed control over what children wear. They’re also hell-bent on controlling on exactly how and exactly where they should walk.


    THE 74:

    “Tulsa Honor Academy’s firm code of conduct would fall into the ‘no excuses’ model favored by some charter schools. One of the first signs a scholar sees as she enters the school building is a large white poster with some of these rules:

    ” ‘Walk on the tape all the way to your destination. Do not cut corners. Remain silent.’

    “The tape is thick and purple and runs along the floor with arrows pointing in different directions through the hallways and classrooms.”

    Building Excellent Schools calls this “walking to purple line to success.”

    Anyway, there’s more of this in the above article.

    • Jack Covey permalink

      From the same article above, here’s the one of the two charter operators defending their practices:

      THE 74:

      “The model is not without its critics. Some argue that it continues to oppress the low-income students whom many charter schools serve with rules that aren’t always present outside of school. Others say students aren’t given the preparation to think for themselves, unlike their wealthier white peers.
      Urueta explains the system with an analogy: It’s like driving on a road. People don’t feel secure if the lines dividing the highway are faded or missing.

      “ ‘[Students] don’t see it as oppressive, because they see it as a structure that supports them, and that’s what it’s meant to do,’ Urueta said.”

      Really, Ms. Urueta? Have you asked them?

      I wonder how many of the wealthy backers of privatization-thru-charter-school-expansion would subject their own children to this garbage?

      None of them.

      The Obamas send their kids to Sidwell Friends. Arne Duncan sends his kids to the Chicago Lab School. Campbell Brown sends hers to the rich kids private school Heschel. I wonder what the kids wear at Heschel?

      Go to Heschel’s website, (or the websites of the other two schools mentioned above) and you’ll see that there’s no uniforms. Kids wear what they want, allowing them to express individuality:

      Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? No mandatory “walking the purple line to success.”

      Those godawful uniforms and practices are only “for other people’s kids.”

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