Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Andre Perry led a charter chain in New Orleans. He became disillusioned. As a black scholar, he questions the Walton-funded effort to portray black support for charters as monolithic, which it is not. 

Perry wrote in response to the controversy that occurred when pro-charter demonstrators disrupted a speech by Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. He is aware of the white Republican money behind the demand for more charters.

He wrote:

Warren needs to learn from black voices — but the charter school movement is not ours to defend.

Organizations such as the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools have orchestrated statewide campaigns using dark money to influence state ballots to increase the number of charter schools, hiding who’s actually behind the movement. The Associated Press reported in December 2018 that an advocacy group that received $1.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education reform, paid for 150, mostly black parents from Memphis to travel to Cincinnati two years prior to protest at a meeting of the NAACP. The parents sought to lobby against an NAACP proposal — which the organization passed despite the protests — to call for a moratorium on charter schools. They denied that the Walton Family Foundation asked them to carry out the protest.

This political season, black people cannot afford to be human shields for white leaders who don’t have the legitimacy to enter black communities on their own.

Perry notes that most Democratic candidates, notably Sanders and Warren, have abandoned charters.

He writes:

This reversal of position by Democrats is a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities….

Over the course of more than two decades, charter school expansion resulted in a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities. Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J., decimating the black middle class there.

Hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards electing pro-charter candidates ultimately empowered Republicans in many states. The pro-charter group Students First realized that its funding of Republican candidates had backfired. The association of the charter cause with the Republic party lead to the defeat of pro-charter proposals. Democratic voters showed they will not support movements that bolster the Republican Party — the same party that refuses to check Trump’s blatant racism. Democrats who support the idea of charter schools should make it clear to Republicansthat they will not tolerate a charter system that offers improved academic performance for some black students only by harming the communities in which those students live.

However, Democrat reformers developed a bad habit of accepting this Faustian bargain, and staying silent in red states on issues like jail expansion, cuts to higher education and attacks on organized labor because dissent ran the risk of slowing the proliferation of charters. Yes, black families want and need choice, but the current charter school movement is too tightly braided with Republican causes; a defense of one is a defense of the other.

To embrace charter schools in 2020 is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits. Black kids lose when Democratic educational reformers act like Republicans.

Perry quotes the EdNext poll, noting that the publication is “pro-reform.” It is more accurate to acknowledge that EdNext (on whose board I once served) is a very conservative, pro-charter, pro-voucher publication funded by rightwing foundations. Frankly, polls about charters are worthless because most people admit when asked that they aren’t sure what a “charter school” is. If they don’t know what a charter school is, how can their view—positive or negative—signify anything?

Perry is right to point out that the Dark Money behind charters has a different agenda than most black parents. The Waltons and DeVos and their allies in ALEC want to bust teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. Perry is right to peer behind the curtain and see whose interest is served by the well-funded attacks on public schools.

He writes:

The funders of charter schools continuously put black parents and teachers in the position of fighting against their own interests. White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative. For-profit charters are in education ostensibly for the money.

Some black charter leaders feel they must defend the schools because black children attend them. But we don’t need to fall into that trap. We can defend black children and workers without defending charter schools. Black people need systemic change. We can’t allow the cry for charters to drown out the demands for school financing reform, better work conditions, higher teacher pay, universal pre-K, free college, teachers’ training and recruitment programs, stronger labor protections and workforce housing initiatives.

 

Thomas Ultican writes here about the Walton-funded effort to control the public schools of Little Rock. Given the Walton love of charter schools, we can safely assume that they hope to eliminate democratic control of the citizenry and impose charter schools. Ultican follows the money, where it comes from, where it goes.

He writes:

In an apparent reaction to the 2014 school board election, new Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson and the state of Arkansas assumed stewardship of Little Rock School District (LRSD). A law passed January 28, 2015 authorizing the takeover requires the state to give control back to Little Rock voters by January, 2020. New racially motivated proposals hearkening back to the days of openly racist governor, Orville Faubus, ensure minority residents lose their democratic rights. Big money from the Waltons – The world’s wealthiest family – is driving privatization and segregation within LRSD.

A leading Little Rock community activist, Reverend Anika Whitfield, said in an interview, “The Governor, the Attorney General and the state legislature are all controlled by the Walton family.” In 2016 when new Superintendent Mike Poore came to Little Rock from Bentonville, Arkansas (headquarter of the Walton family), Whitfield was suspicious and asked him about his relationship with Walmart’s owners. He replied, “I know you all are apprehensive; I don’t even know Jim Walton.”

Driving Corporate Education Reform in Little Rock

Littls Sis Map Attacking Little Rock Schools

Little Sis Map Showing Leaders of the Attack on LRSD

Bear in mind that the point of corporate reform (as practiced by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and other of their ilk) is disruption, not school improvement. Their efforts seldom lead to better schools, but always produce disruption.

The Walton Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation are joining forces to fund disruptive innovations. Both foundations are hostile to democratically governed public schools. Both have supported charter schools and vouchers.

Philanthropic groups associated with billionaire businessman and activist Charles Koch have announced two initiatives to deepen their involvement in K-12 education. 

One initiative is Yes Every Kid, a group that intends to find common ground between groups that typically have disagreed vehemently over issues such as labor protections and school funding. It’s a social-welfare organization—a 501(c)4 in the language of the Internal Revenue Service—that will be able to take part in lobbying and political campaign work such as promoting ballot measures and committees. It will operate under the umbrella of Stand Together, a nonprofit group backed by Koch that promotes anti-poverty efforts.

The other initiative is an agreement between the Charles Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation for each group to donate $5 million to what’s essentially a Silicon Valley-style incubator for education called 4.0 Schools. This group will use that $10 million donation, and another $5 million from other donors, to seed “500 new schools, programs and education tools across the country,” according to a statement from the Koch and Walton foundations. Among its activities, the Walton Family Foundation supports charter schools and private school choice programs. (The Walton Family Foundation provides grant support for coverage of parent-engagement issues, including charters and school choice, in Education Week.)

Charles Koch, along with his brother David, have long been associated with conservative political causes through groups such as Americans for Prosperity. And for some time, the Koch brothers have been some of the biggest antagonists for Democrats and liberal groups, including teachers’ unions. In January, the Koch donor network announced plans to get more involved in K-12 education. At that meeting of the Seminar Network, a Koch-backed organization, the group said it was interested in promoting personalized learning, improving schools, and working “alongside” teachers. 

The billionaires are restless. They are worried. Nothing they have done or funded has succeeded. The Red4Ed movement has put them on the defensive. The backlash against charters has shocked them (the billionaire Waltons claim credit for launching one of every four charters in the nation). The all-charter New Orleans District, where half the schools were rated D or F by the state, is a disappointment. The Koch Network was walloped last year by parent and teacher activists in Arizona, who blocked voucher expansion.

All the billionaires have is money. Endless money. The Waltons increase their wealth by $4 million AN HOUR. so they are putting up about 2 and 1/2 hours of revenue for this new venture. They can’t be serious. They are just producing disruption, sowing chaos, creating jobs for their followers. Keep your eyes on them and Mr. Koch.

On November 26, the New York Times published an article that had this headline: ‘Minority Voters Chafe As Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter Schools.’

The point of the article was that many black and Latino families are very disappointed that all the Democratic candidates have turned their backs on charter schools, excepting Cory Booker, currently polling around 1-2%. The article was especially critical of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who have, as the article put it, “vowed to curb charter school growth.”

The article implied that the shift was due to the candidates’ pursuit of the support of the teachers’ unions, and charter schools are mostly non-union. Thus, if you want the union vote, you oppose non-union charters. (In my experience, neither the AFT nor the NEA is anti-charter, since they seek to organize charters to join their unions and have had some modest success; still, about 90% of charters are non-union.)

The article was prompted by an organized disruption of a speech in Atlanta by Elizabeth Warren, who was talking about a washerwomen’s strike in Atlanta in 1881, led by black women. The disruption was led by Howard Fuller, who, as the article notes, has received many millions from rightwing foundations, not only the Waltons but the Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, to sell vouchers and charters to black families.

Not until paragraph 25 does the article mention that the national NAACP, the nation’s largest organization representing black families, called for a charter moratorium in 2016. That fact alone should raise the question of how representative the protestors are.

I wrote this post about the article. The gist of my complaint was that the Times’ article gave the impression that black and Latino families are clamoring for more charters, when in reality there are many cities in which black and Hispanic families are protesting the destruction of their public schools and the loss of democratic control of their schools.

I questioned why the article relied on a five-year-old press release from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as evidence for its claim that the “wait list” for charter schools was in the “hundreds of thousands.” Actually, the 2014 press release from the charter advocacy group said the “wait list” topped one million students. My comment was that “wait lists” have never been audited or verified and that a claim by a lobbying group is not evidence.

I added to my post a commentary by Robert Kuttner, the editor of the American Prospect,  who was also critical of the article.

Both Kuttner and I heard from a reporter from the New York Times. In the response posted below, he acknowledges he made an error in citing poll data in the article, without reading the underlying poll.

I heard from one of the writers of the Times article. She said my post had many inaccuracies. I invited her to write a response and promised I would post it in full. I pleaded with her to identify any inaccuracies in my post and said I would issue a correction. She did not send a response that I could post nor a list of my “inaccuracies.”

The Times posted an article last July about the growing backlash against charter schools. But I do not think the Times has exhausted the question of why the charter “movement” is in decline.  It would surely be interesting if the Times wrote a story about why the NAACP took a strong stand against charter expansion, despite the funding behind charters. Or why Black Lives Matter opposes privatization and supports democratic control of schools. Or why black families in Little Rock, Chicago, Houston, and other cities are fighting charter expansion. None of those families are funded by the Waltons, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Charles Koch, or Michael Bloomberg, so they don’t organize buses to take hundreds or thousands of people to demonstrations.

The Times should take note of the fact that white Southern Republicans have made the charter issue their own, and they are using it to recreate segregated schools. Indeed, the Republican party has made charter schools and vouchers the centerpiece of their education agenda, and Democrats in most state legislatures have resisted that agenda and support public schools. There is also the fact that DeVos and Trump are pushing charters and school choice even as they dismantle civil rights protections.

I wish the Times had noticed a court decision in Mississippi a few months ago that upheld the right of the state to take tax money away from the predominantly black public schools of Jackson, Mississippi (which are 96-97% black), and give it to charter schools authorized by the state, not the district. They might note that the sole black justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Justice Leslie King, dissented from that decision. The district, under black leadership, fought that decision and lost. The black parents of Jackson, Mississippi, are fighting for adequate funding of their public schools, while the white Republicans in state government are imposing charter schools.

In Justice Leslie King’s dissenting opinion, which Justice James Kitchens joined, he wrote “This Court should not be a rubber stamp for Legislative policies it agrees with when those policies are unconstitutional.”

Public school districts in Mississippi receive local funding from ad valorem tax receipts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, which is a free public school, money that would have gone to the district follows the student to the charter school instead.

My view is that we need a great public school in every neighborhood, with experienced teachers, a full curriculum, a vibrant arts program, a nurse, and all the resources they need for the students they enroll. I think that charter schools should be authorized by districts to meet their needs and supervised by district officials to be sure that there is full transparency and accountability for the academic program, the discipline policies, and the finances. Charter schools should complement public schools, not compete with them or supplant them.

Here is Robert Kuttner’s second commentary on the article:

americanprospect

 

DECEMBER 2, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

Charter Schools and the Times: a Correction and Further Reflections. I made an error in my On Tap post last week on the New York Times feature piece on black public opinion and charter schools.

My post criticized the Times for publishing a page-one story with an exaggerated headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.”

The Times piece cited a poll showing black support for charter schools at 47 percent. My mistake was to infer from this figure that black support and opposition were about equally divided. As one of the story’s authors pointed out in an email, the actual poll showed support at 47 percent, opposition at 29 percent, and no opinion or similar for the rest.

That 29 percent opposed figure was not mentioned in the Times piece. Nonetheless, I should have pursued the underlying poll and reported it, and not just made assumptions. I regret the error.

That said, polling results vary widely depending on the wording and framing of the question, the sponsor of the poll, and the context. For instance, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, in a state that has more charters than any other, reverses the finding of the Education Next poll cited by the Times. In California, blacks, with just 36 percent support, were far less likely to support charters than whites.

One of the two polls that the Times linked to used the phrase “public charter schools.” Most charter schools are public only in their taxpayer funding; their actual accountability to public systems varies widely. Many are for-profit, or nominally nonprofit but managed by for-profit management companies.

Another poll, which my post cited, by Peter Hart Associates (for the American Federation of Teachers), finds that black parents are strongly opposed to the idea of reducing funds for public schools and redirecting them to charters, which is often the practical impact of increased spending on charters. As this study shows, the practical effect of charters, in a climate of fiscal scarcity, is often precisely to divert funds from public schools.

I owe our readers a much deeper look at the charter school controversy, as well as error-free reading of polls. Both will be forthcoming. ~ ROBERT KUTTNER

Robert Kuttners new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Follow Robert Kuttner on Twitter

Many people have written to me to complain about an article that appeared Wednesday on the front page of the New York Times, saying it was pro-charter propaganda. The article claims that black and brown parents are offended that the Democratic candidates (with the exception of Cory Booker, now polling at 1%) have turned their backs on charter schools.

This is not true. Black parents in Little Rock, Arkansas, are fighting at this very moment to stop the Walton-controlled state government from controlling their district and re-segregating it with charter schools. Jitu Brown and his allies fought to keep Rahm Emanuel from closing Walter Dyett High School, the last open enrollment public high school on the South Side of Chicago; they launched a 34-day hunger strike, and Rahm backed down. Jitu Brown’s Journey for Justice Alliance has organized black parents in 25 cities to fight to improve their neighborhood public schools rather than let them be taken over by corporate charter chains. Black parents in many other districts–think  Detroit–are disillusioned with the failed promises of charter schools. Eve Ewing wrote a terrific book (Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side) about resistance by parents, grandparents, students, and teachers in the black community to Rahm Emanuel’s mass closings of public schools to make way for charter schools; Ewing called their response “institutional mourning.” When Puerto Rico teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, parents, teachers, and students rallied against efforts to turn the Island’s public schools over to charter chains.

The article’s claim that “hundreds of thousands” of students are on “waiting lists” to enroll in charters links to a five-year-old press release by a charter advocacy group, the National Alliance for Charter Schools. In fact, there has never been verification of any “wait list” for charters. Although there are surely charters that do have wait lists, just as there are public schools that have long wait lists, there is no evidence that hundreds of thousands of students are clamoring to gain admission to charters. That claim appears to be a marketing ploy. Earlier this year, a member of the Los Angeles school board revealed that 80% of the charters in that city have empty seats. Just this past week, a well-established Boston charter announced that it was closing one campus and consolidating its other two because of declining enrollments. Four of Bill Gates’ charter schools in Washington State have closed due to low enrollments. The only effort to verify the claim of “waiting lists” was carried out by Isaiah Thompson, a public radio reporter in Boston; his review showed that the list contained many duplications, even triplications, since many students applied to more than one school, and the same lists held the names of students who had already enrolled in a charter school or a public school.

Perhaps the Times will now interview Dr./Rev. Anika Whitfield in Little Rock to learn about the struggles of Grassroots Arkansas to block the Walton campaign to destroy their public schools. Perhaps its reporters will interview Jitu Brown to hear from a genuine civil rights leader who is not funded by the Waltons or the Bradley Foundation or Betsy DeVos. Perhaps they will dig into the data in Ohio, where 2/3 of the state’s charter schools were rated either D or F by the state in 2018, and where the state’s biggest cyber charter went into bankruptcy earlier this year after draining away over $1 billion from public schools’ coffers. Perhaps they will cover the news from New Orleans, the only all-charter district in the nation, where the state just posted its school scores and reported that 49% of the charters in New Orleans are rated either D or F. Perhaps they will cover the numerous real estate scandals that have enabled unscrupulous charter operators to fleece taxpayers.

Fairness requires that the New York Times take a closer look at this issue, not by interviewing advocates for the charter industry but by trying to understand why so many Democrats, especially progressives, have abandoned the charter crusade. Why, as the Times asked in July, have charter schools lost their luster?  (I asked the same question last April.) [Editor’s note: I added these two links to refer to use of the term “lost their luster.”] Why have the number of new charters plummeted nationally despite the expenditure of $440 million a year by the federal government and even more by foundations like Gates, Broad, DeVos, Bloomberg, Koch, and Walton. Maybe it was disappointment in their lackluster, often very poor, academic performance. Or maybe it was the almost daily revelations of waste, fraud, and abuse that occurs when public money is handed to entrepreneurs without any accountability of oversight.

The question that must be answered is whether it is just and sensible to create two publicly funded school systems, instead of appropriately funding the public schools that enroll 47 million students, almost 90% of all students. It serves the interests of billionaires to keep people fighting about governance and structure, but it serves the interest of our society to invest in great public schools for everyone.

 

ON TAP Today from the American Prospect

NOVEMBER 27, 2019

Kuttner on TAP

The Times: In the Tank on Charter Schools. The Times ran an overwrought and overwritten front-page story Wednesday under the breathless headline, “Minority Voters Feel Betrayed Over Schools.” Betrayed? The headline on the jump page where the story continues is even more exaggerated: “Minority Voters Chafe as Democrats’ Charter School Support Wanes.”

The piece reads as if it were dictated by the charter school lobby. Read the story very carefully, if you bother to read to the end, and you will learn that some black and Hispanic voters see charters as a good alternative to public schools, while others are concerned that charters, which serve only a fraction of minority kids, drain resources from the larger number of kids in public schools, as the Prospecthas documented.

And if you read all the way to paragraph 38 (!), you will learn that according to a poll by Education Next, a journal that supports charters, black opinion on charter schools is in fact evenly divided, 47 percent supportive to 47 percent opposed. But that kind of nuance doesn’t get your story on the front page, while quoting fervent charter school activists and making unsupported generalizations does.

Other 2017 polling by Peter Hart Associates showed that large majorities of voters, black and white, oppose shifting funds from public schools to charters. Black parents were opposed, 64 to 36. Hart’s Guy Molyneux says there’s no evidence that these views have changed.

Does the Times have fact-checkers? Editors? Do they hold writers accountable?

Back to school!

Robert Kuttner’s new book is The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy.

Teacher Steven Singer writes here about the protest at an Elizabeth Warren debate in Atlanta. 

He notes that a reporter for The Intercept, Ryan Grim, attended the rally and wrote that the protestors were funded by the Waltons, who have never shown any support for civil rights issues and are actively hostile to unions, which lift low-income workers out of poverty.

He also quotes Intercept journalist Rachel Cohen, who wondered why charter parents would object to higher transparency standards.

Singer points out that the billionaire Waltons have used their money to advance for their policy goals.

Carol Burris and Kevin Welner wrote in another article that Warren’s plan would mean additional funding for both public schools and charter schools without closing any charter schools. The Waltons object to her wealth tax proposal, as well as her promise to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, meant for startups but used now by Betsy DeVos to fund big corporate charter chains like KIPP, IDEA, and Success Academy..

Ouch!

New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter district.

New Orleans is supposed to be the shining star of the charter movement, proving the value of school choice and market-based reforms, closing schools and replacing them with new schools, then closing failing schools, ad infinitum.

But newly released state grades reveal that nearly half of the district’s charter schools (49%) received a grade of D or F, meaning failing or near failing.

Della Hasselle writes in the New Orleans Advocate:

The release of the state’s closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district.

But a closer look reveals a startling fact. A whopping 35 of the 72 schools in the all-charter district scored a D or F, meaning nearly half of local public schools were considered failing, or close to it, in the school year ending in 2019. Since then, six of the 35 have closed.

While New Orleans has long been home to struggling schools, the data released this month are concerning. There was an increase of nearly 11% percentage points in the number of schools that received the state’s lowest grades from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.

Someone, please let Betsy DeVos know.

Let Cory Booker and Democrats for Education Reform know.

Let Michael Bloomberg, Reed Hastings, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad know.

Let the Mind Trust and City Fund know.

Tell the Walton Foundation, which has poured over $1 billion into charter school proliferation.

Wow. Some model for the nation to follow!

 

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist in “follow the money.”

He writes in his latest post that the Waltons are targeting Elizabeth Warren not so much because of her stance on charter schools but because of her proposed wealth tax.

He writes:

If the Waltons hate anything so much as unions, it would be taxes. The family and WalMart are huge into tax dodging. And guess who has a plan for that? Elizabeth Warren. So yes the Waltons are big into charter schools but they are bigger into their own wealth. Disrupting Warren on any grounds is a good thing to them. Remember, dark money is never what it seems.

Here in Massachusetts the Waltons have their own political operation as I showed in The Walton Family’s Massachusetts Political Team, 2019.

And the beauty of these political operations the Walton Family Foundation backs in Massachusetts and around the country? They are mostly tax deductible at the top rate of thirty-seven percent. The Waltons pick up about sixty-three percent of this and you, the grateful taxpayer, pick up thirty-seven percent.

When the Waltons push charter schools, what they really mean is lower state and local taxes on Wal-Mart. When the Waltons try to shout down Elizabeth Warren, it’s about the wealth tax. The Waltons do all this with tax deductible political fronts. Taxes, taxes, taxes.

What happened in Georgia is that a taxpayer subsidized unit of the political front of one of America’s richest families attempted to shut down a political candidate. Expect more of this.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

At this very moment, Walmart is suing various states (even Arkansas) to lower their property taxes! That means less money available to support public schools and other public services! This is a family whose collective wealth is more than $160 billion, and they think their property taxes are too high!

Maurice Cunningham played an important role in the referendum about charter school expansion in Massachusetts in 2016 by revealing Dark Money and its sources; I write about him in my forthcoming book SLAYING GOLIATH. And the first page of the book quotes his memorable line: “Money never sleeps. Follow the money.”

 

Twitter lit up this morning with news of a disruption of an Elizabeth Warren rally by charter school “parents” in matching T-shirts. Hovering in the background was Howard Fuller, whose Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) received millions during its lifetime of advocating for vouchers from billionaire foundations such as Bradley, Walton, and Gates.

Peter Greene has gathered the story of the funders of the “parent” disruption of the Warren rally. 

The usual billionaire-funded suspects. The disrupters came from Walton-funded organizations, representatives of DFER, and other pro-charter groups, whose purpose was to embarrass Warren for having the audacity to propose a massive increase in funding for poor kids and kids with disabilities and a cutoff of Betsy DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charters known as the federal Charter Schools Program (which currently spends $440 million annually).

He writes:

As [Ryan] Grim [of The Intercept] tweeted, “A group funded by some of the richest people in the world, the Waltons, just disrupted an @ewarren speech on the 1881 Atlanta washerwoman strike. Can’t make this stuff up.” It’s not a new game; charter advocates have often loaded up parents and students, made them some t-shirts, and deployed them as citizen lobbyists.

There’s a lot of money and power behind the charter school movement. Expect more of these shenanigans if Warren continues to lead the Democratic pack. The charter industry is not gong to let her go without a fight.

 

LilSis (also known as the Public Accountability Project) pays careful attention to the networks and money behind nefarious efforts to destroy the public sector.

In this report, LilSis describes the corporate backers of school privatization against whom Little Rock teachers went on strike. The money behind this network of interlinking organizations and individuals is the Walton family, whose wealth clocked in at $163 Billion (that’s Billion with a B) in 2018.

LilSis writes:

A major backer of the anti-union, pro-charter agenda in Arkansas is the Walton family, whose foundation is a huge funder of the school privatization infrastructure that exists across the state. In addition to the Waltons, corporate elites from Murphy Oil, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Democrat Gazetteand others are backers of the school privatization efforts. These corporate interests are close to Governor Hutchinson, who supports their agenda, and they have close ties to the state Board of Education. In addition, they are also interlocked with a host of lobbyists and academics that push their agenda…

The Waltons are major advocate of charter schools nationally, and they carry out their school privatization agenda through their Walton Family Foundation, which showers hundreds of millions on pro-charter groups and schools. The foundation claims it has invested a whopping $407 million into pushing charter schools since 1997.According to a recent report put out by the Arkansas Education Association, the Waltons pump millions into propping up the state’s school privatization infrastructure – or what the report calls the “Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire.” 

It’s not just that the Waltons give big money to a few groups – it’s also that these groups then distribute that money to other organizations, lobbyists, consultants, and academics, creating a vast network of billionaire-funded activity to attack unionized teachers and push charter schools. 

For example, the Walton family Foundation gave $350,000 to the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) in 2017 – around 80% of all the contributions the organization took in that year. 

The AERF board includes other powerful funders and advocates of school privatization in the state, such as Claiborne Deming, the former CEO of Murphy Oil, a big backer of charter schools in Arkansas; William Dillard III, part of the Dilliard family that owns the Dilliard’s department stores; and Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s flagship newspaper. Jim Walton is also on the board.

In addition to the $350,000 that the Walton donated to the AERF in 2017, Deming gave $60,000 and Dilliard III gave $10,000, while the National Christian Foundation gave $15,000, according the the group’s 2017 990 form.

AERF has in turn used the money it receives from the Walton billionaire fortune and other Arkansas elites to fund other school privatization efforts. For example, it gave $115,000 to Arkansas Learns, which describesitself as “the Voice of Business for excellent education options – including industry-relevant career pathways…” The CEO of Arkansas Learns, Gary Newton, is also the Executive Director of the AERF (for which he earned $189,639 in compensation in 2017). 

In turn, Arkansas Learns has the same board members as AERF, and Randy Zook, the CEO of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, whose wife Dianne Zook is on the state Board of Education that decided to end recognition of the Little Rock teachers’ union, is also a board member. Dianne Zook is also the aunt of Gary Newton.

What a cozy and mutually beneficial arrangement: The Waltons have a lot of money to hand out to achieve their goal of privatizing public schools and breaking unions, and the recipients take the money and carry out the Waltons’ wishes.

Any time you see a group called “XXXXXXX for Education Reform,” you can be sure it is committed to charter schools, union-busting, and privatization, and the odds are high that there is Walton money behind it.

The Waltons have claimed credit for subsidizing one of every four charter schools in the nation.

LilSis creates wonderful graphical depictions of networks.

Here is the LilSis graphic of the Little Rock school privatization network.