Logan T. Carlson, an investigative journalist for the Gannett News Service, noticed that the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is funded by pro-voucher foundations, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Bradley Foundation. A group of researchers at the Project have been responsible for the five-year evaluation of Milwaukee’s voucher program. They found that the voucher schools did not affect students’ test scores, but led to a high graduation rate. Critics point out that 56% of the students who enrolled in the voucher program left before graduating.

Even more worrisome is the connection between the research project and campaign donors.

Carlson writes:

“The research conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is paid for primarily by special interest groups that also donate to politicians pushing for the voucher expansion.

“A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report on school choice special interest money shows that individuals with ties to foundations that have funded the School Choice Demonstration Project have donated more than $630,000 to Wisconsin politicians, most of them Republicans, during the past decade.”

Patrick Wolf, the lead researcher from the University of Arkansas, said his research was unaffected by the source of the funding. However, in an opinion piece he wrote recently, Wolf strongly endorsed school choice in Minnesota and warned Minnesotans that they had fallen behind in adopting school choice programs, such as vouchers and charters.

The reporter noted that the Walton Family Foundation had spent over $500 million in the past three years to support school reforms, especially vouchers and charters. In 2002, the foundation gave $300 million to the University of Arkansas, which the article calls Walmart University.

When the University established its Department of Education Reform, funded in part by Walton, it invited Jay Greene to chair the department. Greene is known as a strong advocate of vouchers. Patrick Wolf holds the endowed chair of school choice in the department.