Archives for category: Walton Foundation

The Walton Family Foundation has been a key player in the movement to privatize public education. It recently pledged to pump $200 millions year into new charter schools to compete with public schools and drain away their resources.

Nonetheless, Walton published an editorial in Education Week admitting that online charter schools were a failure. Walton funded the research that showed their negative results.

“The results are, in a word, sobering. The CREDO study found that over the course of a school year, the students in virtual charters learned the equivalent of 180 fewer days in math and 72 fewer days in reading than their peers in traditional charter schools, on average.

“This is stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students’ academic achievement. The results are particularly significant because of the reach and scope of online charters: They currently enroll some 200,000 children in 200 schools operating across 26 states. If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth-largest in the country and among the worst-performing.

“Funders, educators, policymakers, and parents cannot in good conscience ignore the fact that students are falling a full year behind their peers in math and nearly half a school year in reading, annually. For operators and authorizers of these schools to do nothing would constitute nothing short of educational malpractice.”

Unfortunately, Walton doesn’t promise to stop funding these failed ideas. But it does promise to ask tough questions when the next online charter asks for money.

Fooled me once, shame on you.

Fooled me twice, shame on me.

The Walton Family Foundation announced that it plans to spend $1 billion over the next five years to increase the number of privately managed charter schools. If experience is any guide, almost all of these will be non-union. This was reported by politico pro, which is behind a paywall (I inquired, and it costs $3,500 to gain access). The emphasis in this massive spending will be startups.


“Just as we were in 1997 with our first charter grants, we are inspired by the ideas and passion of our startup grantees, and we’re determined to do all we can to help them succeed. I’d like to wish you, your teams and all of the students and communities we serve a 2016 of progress and accomplishment,” Marc Sternberg, director of the foundation’s K12 program, wrote in a letter to stakeholders obtained by POLITICO.


The Bentonville, Arkansas,-based foundation is run by the family of Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton and is a frequent target of teachers unions for its promotion of school choice efforts, including research. Since 1997, it has poured more than $385 million in 2,110 new public charter schools – or about a quarter of all charters nationally, the foundation said.


Imagine that! The Walton Family Foundation, which was created by the billions earned by Walmart, is anti-union. Walmart does not have unions. It has fought unionization and had to be pushed kicking and screaming to agree to pay minimum wages, eventually. Every member of the Walton family is a billionaire. Now, why would unions not like the Walton family? Anyone? This is a family that enjoys the wealth created by the sweat of others who are not paid a living wage. Do the Waltons sleep well at night?


The Walton family represents the face of rapacious avarice in modern America. Having made their billions, they now use them to destroy the one basic democratic institution on which generations of Americans have relied for the education of their children: The American public schools. They will use their billions to divide communities and to turn citizens into consumers. That’s the Walmart way.



To view online:


Joanne Barkan has written powerful articles in Dissent about the power wielded by billionaires to control and direct public education. (See here.)


Now she has written an article in The Guardian about the Zuckerbergs’ pledge to place 99% of their Facebook stock (value: about $45-46 billion) in a limited liability corporation, which they will use to influence public policy. Her article has the title “Wealthy Philanthropists Should Not Impose Their Idea of the Common Good on Us.”


She writes:


There’s a strong argument to be made that the private tax-exempt foundation doesn’t fit well in a functioning democracy. As the eminent US jurist Richard Posner wrote: “A perpetual charitable foundation, however, is a completely irresponsible institution, answerable to nobody. It competes neither in capital markets nor in product markets … and, unlike a hereditary monarch whom such a foundation otherwise resembles, it is subject to no political controls either.”


Although the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative isn’t a foundation and will pay taxes, nothing about their project changes the fundamental contradiction of mega philanthropy: the wealthy have the power to impose their personal visions of the common good on everyone else while calling it charity. In the tug-of-war between government by the people and social engineering by multibillionaire philanthropists, Chan and Zuckerberg pull on the side of the powerful social engineers.


However, in the New Yorker, James Surowiecki writes “In Defense of Philanthocapitalism,” a spirited defense of the Zuckerbergs, the Gates, and the other billionaires who are willing to try bold new approaches that government is too timid to try. So I assume he includes the Koch brothers, who use their wealth to reshape the economy to benefit the 1%, and Art Pope, who has used his wealth to hand the state of North Carolina over to the Tea Party, and the Waltons, who use their billions to stamp out unions and public schools.


He writes:


In an ideal world, big foundations might be superfluous. But in the real world they are vital, because they are adept at targeting problems that both the private sector and the government often neglect. The classic mission of nonprofits is investing in what economists call public goods—things that have benefits for everyone, even people who haven’t paid for them. Public health is a prime example: we would all benefit from the eradication of malaria and tuberculosis (diseases that Bill Gates’s foundation has spent billions fighting). But, since the benefits of public goods are widely enjoyed, it’s hard to get anyone in particular to foot the bill.


Ah, yes, what would we do without the Koch brothers, the Walton Family Foundation, and other billionaire foundations that do not believe in the public sector? What would educators do if they didn’t have the Gates Foundation to tell them how to evaluate teachers and how to turn public assets over the unaccountable charter schools and how to teach reading and mathematics? What would Los Angeles do if it didn’t have Eli Broad picking its superintendent and deciding to take control of half the children in the public schools and hand them over to privately managed charters and at the same time underwriting coverage of education in the Los Angeles Times? What would Philadelphia do if it didn’t have local foundations deciding to privatize its public schools? How many other cities have private foundations that have decided to lead the charge for school privatization? How many rightwing think tanks would shrivel and die without the support of the same billionaires and their foundations?


Who should shape the public good? The philanthrocapitalists or the public? Who holds the foundations accountable when they make a mistake? To whom are they accountable? No one. How can they preach accountability to everyone else but not for themselves?


Please read and comment.

It is common knowledge that Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Educational Excellence supports charters, vouchers, and digital learning. When he announced his run for the GOP nomination, he stepped down and brought in Condaleeza Rice to lead FEE.


Who provided the money to showcase Bush’s education platform? Bush released his list of donors from 2007-14.


“WASHINGTON (AP) — Big-time donors to a nonprofit educational group founded by Jeb Bush, disclosed for the first time Wednesday, highlight the intersection between Bush’s roles in the worlds of business, policy and politics years before he began running for president….

After leaving the Florida governor’s office in 2007, Bush formed the Foundation for Excellence in Education, with a mission “to build an American education system that equips every child to achieve their God-given potential.” With Bush serving as president, the group attracted $46 million from donors through 2014.

That donor list shows the circular connections as Bush moved from governor to education advocate to corporate board member. Supporters in each of those stages of his career contributed to his educational foundation — which, in turn, sometimes supported causes benefiting its donors. They include Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corp., GOP mega-donor Paul Singer’s foundation, energy companies such as Exxon Mobil, even the Florida Lottery….


“If you wanted access to Jeb Bush, one of the ways to do it is to make a large donation to one of those foundations,” said Bill Allison, who until recently was a senior fellow with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government…


“Records show:

—Four companies and nonprofits that appointed Bush to their boards of directors or advisory boards backed the educational foundation. One, Bloomberg Philanthropies, was among the most frequent supporters, making seven donations worth between $1.2 million to $2.4 million. Bush served on Bloomberg’s board from 2010-14. He also served on the boards of Jackson Healthcare, Rayonier Inc. and an affiliate of CNL Bank, each of which gave a lesser amount to the foundation.


—Bush’s education nonprofit provided $1.1 million in public information grants to eight states in 2013, its tax form shows. In recent years, at least nine charter school and education-related donors to the Foundation for Excellence in Education won contracts in those eight states, revealing the mirrored missions of donors and the foundation.


—The most frequent individual donor to Bush’s group was Florida citrus grower Bill Becker and his wife, Mary Ann Becker, who made eight donations worth between $225,008 and $450,000. A longtime Bush family supporter, Becker once provided Jeb Bush the use of his Cessna airplane for campaign travel….


—Major corporations backed Bush with big money. The most generous organization was the Walton Family Foundation, formed by Wal-Mart’s founders, which gave from $3.5 million to more than $6 million. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Wal-Mart Foundation gave $35,002 to $80,000 more. Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ foundation gave between $3 million and more than $5 million. Murdoch’s News Corp. made three contributions, at $500,001 to $1 million apiece. The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, built from the family real estate empire, gave more than $2 million.


—Total donations steadily increased over time, going from a 2007 maximum of $335,000 to $8.4 million in 2011 and as much as $12.2 million in 2014.

Education outfits such as Charter Schools USA, the publishing and education company Pearson PLC and Renaissance Learning were frequent contributors. So were financial groups and big businesses, with the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation giving from $1.6 million to $3.25 million and the SunTrust Bank Foundation $300,003 to $750,000. Exxon Mobil Corp., Duke Energy and BP America made nine contributions combined.”






THE union-hating Walton Family Foundation granted another $50 million to Teach for America, one of the nation’s most successful businesses. This will allow TFA to meet the needs of the charter industry, as TFA recruits are willing to work long hours and leave after 2-3 years.

93% of charters are nonunion.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh gave no indication in 2013 when he ran for office that he was a supporter of school privatization; his opponent John Connolly clearly was. Walsh accused Connolly–a charter school supporter of wanting to “blow up” the school system. Yet now Walsh is working closely with the Gates Foundation and the far-right, union-busting Walton Family Foundation to close 36 public schools and replace them with privately managed charter schools. In 2012, Boston was one of seven cities that signed a “Gates Compact,” agreeing to treat public schools and charter schools as equals. Boston received $3.25 million to sell out  public education to the Gates Foundation and the billionaire-backed charter movement.


If you live in or near Boston, show up for the meetings of the “Boston Compact” committee listed below. Don’t let them steal our democracy!



Blogger Public School Mama used the Freedom of Information Act to discover the sneaky backdoor deal that the mayor is hammering out with the billionaire boys to shutter 1/4 of Boston’s public schools.


She writes:


“This proposal is not being driven by the wishes of Mayor Walsh’s constituents. These plans are not being hammered out in open meetings where the citizens of Boston can hold policy makers accountable. These decisions are being made in closed meetings with the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation where Mayor Walsh is hoping to receive funding for his education agenda….


“I think everyone can agree that our education policy should be driven by the people of Boston and not outside foundations.


“On October the 14th, the unelected Boston School Committee voted unanimously to renew the Boston Compact.


“Here are the last Boston Compact meetings:


“Here are the last meetings:


“Thursday, November 12
6:30 – 9:00 pm
1st Church of Jamaica Plain


“Tuesday, November 17
5:30 – 8:00 pm
West End Boys and Girls Club”



Last year, Camp Philos had its first meeting in a remote area of the Adirondacks of New York. Governor Cuomo was the keynote speaker at this gathering of philosophers who strategize about replacing public schools with private management and opening up the secure flow of government funding to private investors.

This year, the philosophers’ camp convened in Martha’s Vineyard, an equally inaccessible and very expensive location. It was in late October. Some of the stars of privatization were there, plus a few new faces.

The event was sponsored by the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and ConnCAN. The usual lineup of billionaires paid for this strategy session on how to steal democracy from the public, how to promote the ALEC agenda while calling yourself a Democrat.

Mercedes Schneider received an email sent by the Walton Family Foundation to its many friends and admirers, touting the success of a school that is part of the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Being the careful researcher that she is, she gave the email a close reading and discovered that it was pure propaganda, signed by the WFF director of education, Marc Sternberg.

The email boasts about a young man who graduated from a high school in Tennessee and now returns to the low-performing school as its principal. Cue the violins, as we know he is sure to succeed. This school is one of the lucky schools that is part of the Achievement School District, which will surely lift the lowest 5% of schools in the state (mostly in Memphis with a few in Nashville) to the top 25%, in a mere five years.

Mercedes notes that the school has been in the ASD for only one year. Why the confidence that it will be transformed?

She points out what Walton’s propaganda machine failed to mention: Of the schools that have been part of the ASD the longest, four of the six are still in the bottom 5%, and the other two are in the bottom 6%. (She credits Gary Rubinstein with the original research demonstrating the failure of the ASD.) Why is Walton pretending that the ASD is a grand success?

She writes:

So, if ASD dramatically improves schools, why feature a school that has been in ASD for only a single year? Why not feature schools that have been in ASD for years and have therefore (surely) shown evidence of *dramatic improvement*?

Easy answer:

ASD has no schools that have *dramatically improved.*

Still, the Waltons want to sell ASD as a solution for those “bottom 5 percent” of Tennessee schools. They email subscribers with a feel-good story of a man who graduated from the “bottom 5 percent” school and who became a success anyway when the school was not in the bottom 5 percent– and without any detailed consideration of the factors that might have contributed to the school’s now having “fallen” into the bottom 5 percent based on test scores.

Converting the school to a charter led by an alum of the school surely will allow (Frasyer High) MLK Charter to climb on the backs of some other, less fortunate Tennessee schools and exit that bottom 5 percent.

The first superintendent of the ASD, Chris Barbic, pledged to achieve his goal in five years. After four years, he had a heart attack. He failed. He quit.

The ASD continues to post its boast on its website, even though it has been a flop.

No data-driven policy here. Just propaganda.

In a big victory for the Walton family, the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and will allow the state to take over the Little Rock school district. Of 48 schools in the district, six have been labeled “failing” by the state. Nonetheless, the state will oust the elected board and run all the schools.

A former Little Rock school board member, Jim Ross, said of the ruling:

“The Supreme Court of Arkansas is the best court Walton money can buy, so it’s no surprise. … We’re pretending that there’s not a big elephant sitting in the middle of this conversation, which is that the Waltons want to fundamentally destroy traditional public schools. And our state Board of Education is leading in that.

“I’m sure on some level they’re all altruistic people who think they’re doing the right thing, but at the end of the day they’re driven by profit, not people,” Ross said. “They’re driven by the idea that white, educated elites should be in charge, and that black people in our city are irrational, have political agendas, are enslaved to John Walker, whatever it is … there’s a fundamental lack of commitment to democracy.”

Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly has a must-read report on a recent debate about the Walton Family Foundation. The report and the debate about it were sponsored by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

This debate and the report on which it is based represent a sad turnaround in philosophy for the NCRP. In two previous reports, noted below, the organization warned about the dangers of privatization and specifically singled out the Walton Family Foundation for using its wealth to undermine the public sector. This new report tilts towards the beneficence of the Walton privatization agenda. Has NCRP lost its independence? Or its voice?

In this instance, the roots of the debate were in an NCRP report published in May 2015, part of NCRP’s “Philamplify” series, on the Walton Family Foundation, subtitled, “How Can This Market-Oriented Grantmaker Advance Community-Led Solutions for Greater Equity?” Compared to earlier NCRP reports on the Walton Family Foundation, notably NCRP’s 2005 report, “The Waltons and Wal-Mart: Self-Interested Philanthropy,” and its 2007 follow-up, “Strategic Grantmaking: Foundations and the School Privatization Movement, it was distinctly less critical of the ideology and agenda of the Arkansas philanthropic behemoth. Both earlier reports indicated that the foundation’s promotion of school choice, charter schools, and school vouchers in education reform had led to a pernicious, self-interested crusade to undermine public schools.

When it comes to market approaches, as Sherece West-Scantlebury, the president and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and chair of the NCRP board, noted at the beginning of the debate, NCRP is “agnostic.” In fact, for the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation itself, headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas, West-Scantlebury described the Walton Family Foundation, headquartered in Bentonville 200 miles away, as a “great partner” for her foundation’s programs. Walton has a major programmatic emphasis in its “home region,” with grantmaking focused on Northwest Arkansas and Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi totaling more than $40 million in 2014, while Winthrop Rockefeller is totally dedicated to Arkansas’s advancement, both with overlapping commitments to education programs in Arkansas, including the two foundations’ joint sponsorship in 2014 of the “ForwARd Partnership for Arkansas Education” initiative.

Cohen admits at the end of the piece that he is not a disinterested observer, because he wrote the earlier reports that were highly critical of the Walton Family Foundation’s support for school privatization. Given that the far-right Walton family (and its Walmart corporation) is opposed to unions, it is not surprising that it would support non-union charter schools and religious schools. It is hard to swallow the claim that support for privatization and union-busting is an agenda for equity, but the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation is able to do so.

You will find the account of the debate interesting. What galled me was that the lead advocate for school choice, Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, invoked the late AFT leader Albert Shanker’s name as a proponent of charter schools. I don’t blame Pondiscio for saying this, as the myth of Shanker’s charter advocacy is widely cited in rightwing circles. But I frequently point out that while Shanker was among the very first to advocate for charter schools in 1988, he renounced his support for charter schools in 1993 in his weekly New York Times paid column. He said that charter schools were an instrument for privatization, no different from vouchers. He became soured on private management because of an experiment in Baltimore that involved a private group called Education Alternatives Inc. It fired unionized paraprofessionals who earned $10 an hour and replaced them with college graduates who worked for $7 an hour. Ironically, one of those college-graduates in the experiment was Michelle Rhee. In 1994, Shanker became more outspoke in his opposition to charters when he discovered that the first charter school in Michigan in 1994 was the Noah Webster Academy, enrolling some 700 students, mostly Christian home-schoolers who were taught a creationist curriculum on computers. The “school,” the computers and the curriculum were publicly funded. I would be very happy if charter cheerleaders stopped invoking Shanker’s name as one of their founding fathers.


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