Archives for category: Walton Foundation

Tom Ultican tells the sad story of the Johns Hopkins University Education Policy Institute, which was once known for unbiased scholarship.

As he recounts the politicization of the Institute, he explains the upside of joining forces with privatizers, disrupters, standardized testing zealots, allies of Relay “Graduate School” of Education and the charter industry. The Institute is now the recipient of millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, Charles Koch, the Walton family, and other very rich luminaries of the philanthropic world.

In one of JHU’s consequential reports, it was commissioned to study the high-poverty Providence, RI, school district. Only weeks later, they turned in a gloomy assessment that set the stage for a state takeover. Then-Governor Gina Raimondo hired ex-TFA Angelica Infante-Greene, who never been a principal or a superintendent, as State Commissioner of Education. She, in turn, hired a new superintendent and deputy superintendent for Providence, who were both fired after the deputy was caught forcibly massaging boys’ toes.

Infante-Greene has now been inducted into Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change (which had previously designated by Chiefs as a future leader.)

Is it worth mentioning that the outcomes of state takeovers have been dismal?

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. His specialty is following the gobs of money poured into “education reform.” His exposes of Dark Money in the 2016 charter expansion referendum was a crucial element in turning the public against the referendum (you can read more about him in his blogs and in my book Slaying Goliath.)

In this post, published here for the first time, Professor Cunningham writes about the innocence or naïveté of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who met with a billionaire astroturf group and thought he was reaching out to ordinary parents and families.

Cunningham writes:

Who Got Suckered, Secretary Cardona or Readers of The74?

“The Pro-privatization education blog The74 recently published To Rebuild Trust with Families, Ed. Dept. Seeks Input from Outspoken Parents Group. The story purports to be about how Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “seeks” the advice of parents and thus turns to the National Parents Union. But the National Parents Union isn’t about parents, it’s a front for oligarchs with “parents” in the name. So who got suckered here, Secretary Cardona or readers of The74?”

“Let’s start at the end of the post, with The74’s disclaimer:

Disclosure: The Walton Family Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and The City Fund provide financial support to the National Parents Union and The 74.

Let’s not stop there. Here’s an excerpt from The74’s first ever piece of NPU puffery, Mothers of Invention: Frustrated with the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Union.”

Marquez and Rodrigues raised seed money and funding for the recent convening from several philanthropies that fund education initiatives: The Walton Family Foundation; EdChoice; the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; National School Choice Week; the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; and The City Fund, which in turn receives funding from Walton, the Hastings Fund, the Arnold Foundation (now Arnold Ventures), the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Ballmer Group.

“Picture this. You’re a parent sitting at your kitchen table thinking about school just like millions of parents across the country. You call a friend across the country and decide to start a parents group. You’ll need some startup money so you divide up possible donors: ‘You call the Waltons, Eli Broad, Reed Hastings, and John Arnold. I’ve got Mike Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Mark Zuckerberg, and Charles Koch.’

“A few months after ‘giving birth’ Ms. Marquez disappeared from her position as secretary-treasurer. No word from NPU or The74 on what happened to her. 

“You’d have to know this to get the irony of The74 writing a headline about rebuilding “trust” with parents. Maybe rebuilding trust with the Waltons, Koch, et al. but not parents. 

“Here’s how The74’s post begins:

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday he wants “families at the table” as schools prepare for the fall, offering welcome news to parents who have felt shut out of efforts to help their children recover from the pandemic.

Last week, his staff took steps to fill up the guest list by contacting the National Parents Union, a network of advocacy groups that has been critical of distance learning, especially for low-income and minority students, and has pushed for schools to reopen.

On April 28, Christian Rhodes, chief of staff for the department’s Office of Elementary and Secretary of Education, met with Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union’s founding president, and Marisol Rerucha, the group’s chief of strategy and partnerships.

Since then, the group’s representatives have been asked to work with the department’s School Climate and Discipline Work Group and the Office of Parent Engagement and Communication, and to be involved in a meeting regarding federal relief funds later this week.

“This is artful. It starts out with an actual quote from Secretary Cardona and then transitions to the only place one could go to hear the authentic voice of parents, NPU. If any of this is true, it is epically bad staff work. We can discuss corporate America’s value in education policy but Gates, Walton et al. have no problem getting a seat at the table. They just shouldn’t get one masquerading as parents. 

“Back to that kitchen table conversation. ‘Oh, and once we line up the Waltons and Gates and those other billionaires, we’ll need a chief of strategy and partnerships. Every parent group needs one of those.’

“Just wondering, who was the source for this information?”

“They feel like we represent a really important constituency,” Rodrigues said. “We were very clear with them. We’re not here just to be disseminating information from [the department]. We need to be informing policy.”

“It appears that the source was Ms. Rodrigues, not only a mother of invention but now able to read the feelings of DOE personnel. It doesn’t look like The74 spoke to any DOE source.”

The department’s invitation to the organization to be part of its “kitchen cabinet” follows accusations that the teachers unions have had greater access to the secretary and the administration than other interest groups. The National Parents Union represents groups that have largely blamed unions for slowing down the reopening process and say schools have failed their children during the pandemic. Parent organizations were not represented during Cardona’s March 24 reopening summit, and in early April, Rodrigues said she was “furious” that the department had not yet reached out to any groups within the network. With states facing a June 7 deadline to submit plans to the department for spending American Rescue Plan funds, some of those local groups now want to have more say in how districts spend that money.

“‘Kitchen cabinet’”? Here is something very basic from the concept of principal-agent theory. A principal, here the lead investor Walton Family Foundation, employs an agent, here Ms. Rodrigues, to pursue the goals of the principal. So you have an agent of the Walton family and its wealthy allies in Secretary Cardona’s “kitchen cabinet.” 

“Let’s continue with that paragraph because it’s really funny: “accusations that the teachers unions have had greater access.” With a link! But the link has nothing to do with accusations about teachers unions, it is to a Today.com story where First Lady Jill Biden is praising teachers for their matchless contributions to children’s development, Jill Biden honors fellow teachers in her 1st official event as first lady. I cannot make this up. 

“So who has made accusations against teachers unions? National Parents Union! Which is exactly what we should expect from an agent working for the anti-union Waltons and Koch.

“States are looking at revisiting what it means to have families engaged,” Cardona said at the Education Writers Association’s annual conference. “This pandemic taught us that we have to be nimble, we have to be flexible and we have to meet families where they are.”

As part of his “Help is Here” tour to local schools, mostly in the Northeast, the secretary has interacted with some parents who don’t represent particular advocacy groups. And Rodrigues said her group is directing the department to other organizations “doing important work.”

Cunningham concludes:

“Wait a minute, Secretary Cardona has already been meeting with real parents? I imagine one of the groups Ms. Rodrigues will be recommending is Massachusetts Parents United, which she also “founded” with millions in Walton backing and where the organizations Form 990 tax return shows that she was compensated $189,000 in 2019. 

“Here’s more artistry from The74, the very next paragraph:

“Rachel Thomas, a spokeswoman for the education department, said working with parents is “critical” to addressing academic inequities made worse by the pandemic.

“It’s with parents’ partnership that we can build our education system back better than it was before, and make sure our schools are welcoming environments that work for all students, not just some,” she said.

“The placement invites the reader to conclude that Ms. Thomas was responding to Ms. Rodrigues. But there’s no evidence she was. It’s just boilerplate. 

“The story goes on some, I provided a link above.

“National Parents Union is a sucker’s game. The question is, who got suckered, Secretary Cardona, his staff, or the readers of The74

“Or all three?”

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money, democracy, and oligarchy.]


Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, which is part of the City University of New York. Gabor has written insightful articles about education in the New York Times and at Bloomberg.com. She is the author of After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Education Reform.

The following is a summary of a chapter in her forthcoming book, MEDIA CAPTURE: HOW MONEY, DIGITAL PLATFORMS, AND GOVERNMENTS CONTROL THE NEWS, which will be published by Columbia University Press in June. She prepared this excerpt for this blog.

She writes:

For the past twenty years, American K-12 education has been on the receiving end of Big Philanthropy’s efforts to reengineer public schools based on free-market ideas, with foundation-funded private operators taking over large swaths of school districts in cities like Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Between 2000 and 2005 alone, three foundations—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—quadrupled their spending on K–12 education to $400 million. By 2010, the top 15 foundations had spent $844 million on public education.

Moreover, these Big Philanthropies coordinated their spending, investing in what Harvard’s Jal Mehta and Johns Hopkins’s Steven Teles call “jurisdictional challengers”—efforts aimed atupending traditional educational institutions, in particular public schools and school boards. Instead, the foundations funded a range of private and public institutions, including charter-management organizations and alternative teacher-development institutions such as Teach for America, as well as school-board candidates who would back the philanthropists’ reform agenda and help break the “monopoly” of public-school districts.

Diane Ravitch and a slew of other academics, bloggers and writers have documented the growing influence of Big Philanthropy and its convergence with federal education policies, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, creating what the political scientist Sarah Reckhow calls “a perfect storm.”

As part of its soup-to-nuts strategy designed to maximize the impact of its gifts and expand its influence, Big Philanthropy has expanded its reach to universities, think tanks, government institutions, and the news media.

My chapter, “Media Capture and the Corporate Education-Reform Philanthropies,” in Media Capture, explores the efforts of the Big Philanthropy to shape public opinion by ratcheting up its spending on advocacy and, in particular, by investing in local news organizations. The philanthropies have supported education coverage at a range of mainstream publications—investments that often helped promote the foundations’ education-reform agenda. In addition, they have founded publications specifically dedicated to selling their market-oriented approach to education.

For the news media, battered by internet companies such as Craigslist and Facebook, which have siphoned off advertising revenue, funding from philanthropies comes at an opportune time. Nor can private foundations be faulted for supporting the news media, especially given the rise of “alternative facts” and demagoguery during the Trump era. Foundation funding has long been important to a range of respected news organizations such as The New York Times and National Public Radio, as well as established education publications, such as Education Week.This is not to say that this funding has unleashed a spate of pro-reform coverage. Indeed, I have published essays critical of the education-reform philanthropies in many foundation-funded publications. However, logic suggests that publications desirous of repeat tranches of funding will at least moderate their critical coverage.

What is particularly troubling are the large contributions to local news organizations—many of them earmarked specifically for education coverage—by foundations that explicitly support the takeover of local schools and districts by private operators. My chapter explores how philanthropic support of news organizations—including new publications founded and run by education-reform advocates—is aimed at creating a receptive audience for the foundations’ education-reform agenda.

The Gates Foundation’s effort to influence local and national policy via the news media is a case in point.

The Gates Foundation alone devoted $1 billion in the decade from 2000 to 2010 to so-called policy and advocacy, a tenth of the foundation’s $3 billion-a-year spending, according to an investigation by The Seattle Times.

Although much of that money went to analyze policy questions—such as the efficacy of vaccine-funding strategies—“the ‘advocacy’ side of the equation is essentially public relations: an attempt to influence decision-makers and sway public opinion.”

In 2011, The Seattle Times published an exhaustive article about its leading hometown philanthropic organization and asked: “Does Gates funding of media taint objectivity?” (At the time, the Gates Foundation also was bankrolling a slew of education policies, including the common core, and building political support for “one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.”)

The Seattle Times showed how the Gates Foundation funding goes far beyond providing general support for cash-strapped news organizations:

“To garner attention for the issues it cares about, the foundation has invested millions in training programs for journalists. It funds research on the most effective ways to craft media messages. Gates-backed think tanks turn out media fact sheets and newspaper opinion pieces. Magazines and scientific journals get Gates money to publish research and articles. Experts coached in Gates-funded programs write columns that appear in media outlets from The New York Times to The Huffington Post, while digital portals blur the line between journalism and spin.”

Indeed, Gates usually “stipulates” that its funding be used for reporting on issues the philanthropy supports—whether curing diseases such as HIV or improving U.S. education. And although Gates does not appear to dictate specific stories, the Seattle Times noted: “Few of the news organizations that get Gates money have produced any critical coverage of foundation programs.”

The Seattle Times story was written before the newspaper accepted a $530,000 grant, in 2013, the bulk of it from the Gates Foundation, to launch the Education Lab. The paper described the venture as “a partnership between The Seattle Times and Solutions Journalism Network” that will explore “promising programs and innovations inside early-education programs, K–12 schools and colleges that are addressing some of the biggest challenges facing public education.” The Gates Foundation contributed $450,000, with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funding the rest.

In a blog post, the newspaper addressed the potential conflict of interest posed by the grant: “The Seattle Times would neither seek nor accept a grant that did not give us full editorial control over what is published. Generally, when a grant is made, there is agreement on a specific project or a broad area of reporting it will support.” The newspaper earmarked its funding for so-called “solutions journalism.”

It may be laudable for a publication to focus on “solutions” to societal problems. But almost by definition, a mission that effectively targets “success stories” diminishes journalism’s vital watchdog role.

Then too, Gates’s influence extends well beyond Seattle. The Associated Press documented the Gates foundation’s soup-to-nuts effort, in 2015, to influence education policy in Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, a Gates-funded advocacy group had a say in the state’s new education plan, with its leader sitting on an important advising committee. A media outlet given money by Gates to cover the new law then published a story about research funded by Gates. And many Gates-funded groups have become the de facto experts who lead the conversation in local communities. Gates also dedicated millions of dollars to protect Common Core as the new law unfolded.”

Meanwhile, the same year in Los Angeles, fellow philanthropist,Eli Broad, identified Gates as a key potential investor in his $490 million plan to dramatically grow the city’s charter-school sector. The plan included a six-year $21.4 million “investment” in “organizing and advocacy,” including “engaging the media”and “strategic messaging.” (The charter-expansion plan itself followed an $800,000 investment by a Broad-led group of philanthropists to fund an initiative at The Los Angeles Times to expand the paper’s coverage of K–12 education.) In 2016, Gates invested close to $25 million in Broad’s charter-expansion plan.

The Gates Foundation also served as a junior partner in one of the most audacious, coordinated efforts by Big Philanthropy to influence coverage of the education-reform story—the establishment, in 2015, of The 74 Million, which has become the house organ of the education-reform movement. The 74 has been a reliable voice in favor of the charter-school movement, and against teachers’ unions. In 2016, it published The Founders, a hagiography of the education-reform movement. And it has served as a Greek chorus of praise for the education reforms in New Orleans, the nation’s first all-charter district, while ignoring the experiment’s considerable failings.

Key contributors to the publication, which boasts a $4 million-annual budget, were the Walton Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Soon after it’s founding, The 74 acquired a local education publication, the L.A. School Report, which itself had been heavily funded by Broad. In 2016, Gatescontributed, albeit a relatively modest $26,000, to The 74.

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The latest ploy of the billionaires pushing their version of “reform schools” is to fund faux grassroots parent organizations, like the “National Parents Union.” The media refer to them as “family-led.” Like the Walton family? In Rhode Island, as Massachusetts professor Maurice Cunningham demonstrated, a parent group demanding charter schools suddenly popped up, called “Stop the Wait, Rhode Island.” These moms somehow had the money to commission a statewide poll.

In her latest post, Mercedes Schneider probes the latest “grassroots” group of parents, who somehow have the funding to intervene in litigation. It calls itself “Parents Defending Education.” She refers to this group as “prefab grassroots.”

The post is vintage Mercedes, who utilizes her considerable investigative skills to follow the money behind the facade.

Max Brantley writes in the Arkansas Times that the voucher lobby is determined to reverse their 44-52 loss in the Arkansas House. Backed by Walton money, they are naming and shaming the legislators who stood up for their community’s public schools.

Although Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, and his children attended public schools, they are determined to destroy public schools that provide the same opportunity for other people’s children. They blithely toss out millions to buy the support of people who have no heart or soul and will gladly lobby to harm the institution that has been an abiding symbol of our democracy for generations. Public schools have failings, like every other institution. They must be far better, and they should have the respect and the funding to provide equal opportunity to all children.

But the Waltons have led the forces of greed that seek to undermine public schools that accept all students and have standards for professionals. Let me tell you what I think of the Waltons: I think they are greedy. I think they don’t care about other people’s children. They hate unions and public schools. They love privately managed charter schools, vouchers,and any other substitute for the public schools they attended. They treat everyone else as peasants. They are arrogant. They are prideful.

The Waltons represent the worst of American society: people who have become fabulously wealthy by killing small towns, driving small stores out of business, underpaying their one million employees, using their vast wealth to impoverish others and to undermine the community institutions that enrich the lives of people they treat with contempt. For them and their ilk, playing with the lives of other people’s children is a hobby, a pastime. They are very, very rich, and they must have their way. They don’t understand why the peasants refuse to bow down to their wishes.

Maurice Cunningham is the Master of the Mysteries of Dark Money. In this post, he traces the shifting membership of the board of directors of the Walton-funded “National Parents Union.” You know what NPU wants: charter schools. After reading the story, you will understand who pays the bills: the Waltons and Charles Koch. They are parents too! Be sure to read Christine Langhoff’s comment.

As readers are well aware, the federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act continued the mandated annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in reading and math (as well as one high school test) that was the heart of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002. The Secretary of Education is allowed to grant waivers to states that ask not to give the tests. Last year, as the pandemic closed most schools, Secretary Betsy DeVos offered a blanket waiver to all states. She vowed not to do it again.

During the campaign of 2020, candidate Joe Biden publicly and unequivocally pledged to abandon the tests. He seemed to understand that they were not producing useful information and were squeezing out valuable instruction and subjects that are not tested.

Education Trust, led by John King, who was Obama’s Secretary of Education in his last year in office, created a campaign to demand that the Biden administration refuse all waiver requests and demand that everyone be tested, despite the pandemic. Education Trust, and most of the organizations that signed its two letters, are heavily funded by the Gates and Walton foundations.

The decision not to allow waivers, bowing to the EdTrust campaign, was announced by Ian Rosenblum, a low-level political appointee who previously worked for Education Trust New York and was an advocate for high-stakes testing. His boss was John King, who sent the pro-testing letters. The decision was made before Secretary Cardinal was confirmed. My guess is that the decision was made by Carmel Martin, who was an influential testing advocate in the Obama administration, then worked for the neoliberal Center for American Progress. She now works in the Biden White House as a member of the Domestic Policy Council. If I am wrong, I hope she corrects me.

Laura Chapman reviews the chronology here.

Thank you for all who helped to produce this rapid response and effective use of only two of the many databases for tracking the role of money in shaping policy.

I think it may be useful to put a timeline around some these flows of money and federal policies.

MAY 2020. Guidance for ESEA section 8401(b)(3)(A) testing waivers were published in May 2020 and almost every state or comparable jurisdiction requested and received these waivers for the 2019-2020 school year, well before the full force of the pandemic required large scale changes in schools. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/05/19/2020-10740/notice-of-waivers-granted-under-section-8401-of-the-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965.

FEBRUARY 3, 2021. The Education Trust sent a letter to Dr. Miguel Cardona. This was after his nomination but before his confirmation on March 1. This letter was signed by 18 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. Find the letter here. https://edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Joint-Letter-to-Dr.-Miguel-Cardona-Urging-Rejection-of-Waivers-to-Annual-State-Wide-Assessment-Requirements-for-the-2020-21-School-Year-February-3-2021.pdf

The February 3 letter ends with two footnotes. The first is for McKinsey & Co.’s data about achievement before schools closed and the transition to remote learning began. This analysis includes “epidemiological scenarios” for learning loss (in months) for students who are white, black, and Hispanic. As usual, Mc Kinsey & Co. cares about the economic value of test scores “We estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses…. This translates into an estimated impact of $110 billion annual earnings across the entire current K–12 cohort.” https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-and-social-sector/our-insights/covid-19-and-student-learning-in-the-united-states-the-hurt-could-last-a-lifetime

The second footnote refers to a Bellwether Education report justifying their use of “crisis” rhetoric about school attendance data. The report estimates that about three million school-age children had difficulty engaging in or accessing education in the spring and fall 2020. That estimate was based on data from multiple sources, including media reports.

I hope Dr. Cordona understands that McKinsey & Co and Bellwether Education are not great sources of trustworthy information about public schools. https://bellwethereducation.org/publication/missing-margins-estimating-scale-covid-19-attendance-crisis.

FEBRUARY 22. On this date Ian Rosenblum, “Delegated the Authority to Perform the Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Elementary Education” announced “guidance for state testing” with particular attention to the conditions required if waivers of any find were requested. Note that Dr, Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education. I have yet to discover how he was granted authority (or grabbed it) to assert national policy on testing for the 2020-2021 school year. It is worth noting that Rosenblum’s prior employer had been The Education Trust, (New York). Here is the Guidance letter.https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/stateletters/dcl-assessments-and-acct-022221.pdf

FEBRUARY 23. In no time flat, The Education Trust sent this second letter to the U.S. Department of Education, titled “Response From Civil Rights, Social Justice, Disability Rights, Immigration Policy, Business, and Education Organizations to the U.S. Department of Education’s Updated Guidance on Key ESSA Provisions in 2020–21.” This letter was signed by 30 organizations in addition to the Education Trust. This letter emphasized that local assessments were not suitable for accountability:

”We want to be clear: The Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.”

In effect, the only accountability measures that matter to The Education Trust and those who signed on to these letters are features of a factory model of education. Standardization is the ultimate criterion for data entering into decisions about federal policy. This factory model is also positioned as if the primary way to address equity and civils rights. We must “hold all students to the same standards and expectations.”

The February 23 letter also articulates a clear distain for assessments most likely to be meaningful to teachers, students, and parent caregivers; namely teacher and district developed evaluations of learning with these judgements student-specific, curriculum relevant, informed by face-to=face conversations and providing a meaningful pathway for guiding students.


Education Trust, led by former Secretary of Education John King, sent two letters to the Biden administration, urging the administration not to allow states to receive waivers from the mandated federal testing. The signers of the letters were not the same. As State Commissioner in New York, King was a fierce advocate for Common Core and standardized testing.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and board member of the Network for Public Education, wrote this about the pro-testing coalition assembled by King:

I asked my assistant Michael Horwitz to figure out which organizations were on the first Ed Trust letter pushing against state testing waivers, but not the letter that just came out, advocating against allowing flexibility by using local assessments instead.  National PTA, NAN (Al Sharpton’s group), LULAC, KIPP and a few others did drop off the list. 

I then asked Leonie if she could add the amounts of funding to these organizations by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation and she replied:

The largest beneficiary of their joint funding among these organizations has been KIPP at over $97M, then Ed Trust at nearly $58 million, who spearheaded both letters. Also TNTP at $54M, NACSA at $44M, Jeb Bush’s FEE at nearly $32 M and 50Can at $29M. [TNTP used to be called “The New Teachers Project,” and was created by Michelle Rhee.] Michael Horwitz did the research.

Signers on the first letter:

The following orgs were on the second letter, but not the first: many more obviously pro-charter, right-wing and more local organizations:

Leonie Haimson 
leoniehaimson@gmail.com

Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson 

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.

What do you think the Walton Family Foundation has in mind when they seek out “innovative” approaches to schooling? We know that they speak their mind when they hand out millions every year to charter schools, school choice organizations, privatization advocacy groups, and Teach for America. They usually drop a few dollars in the bucket of their Bentonville, Arkansas, public schools, peanuts compared to the money for privatization.

Media Contact: Vanessa Steinhoff, 240-432-1428, vsteinhoff@wffmail.com                  

Walton Family Foundation Announces 

#SchoolsIN Campaign to Inspire, Spotlight 

Innovative Educational Approaches During COVID-19


Families, Students and Educators Invited to Share Their Creative, Surprising 

and All-Too-Real Moments This School Year on Social Media

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Today the Walton Family Foundation launched #SchoolsIN, a national campaign to provide inspiration, spotlight innovation and build an inclusive community in support of student learning. With COVID-19 shifting how learning happens across the country, the campaign is an opportunity to build awareness about creative approaches and emphasize the importance of continuing learning amid adversity. 

At this pivotal moment, America’s students, families and educators are reinventing when, where and how learning happens,” said Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Program Director at the Walton Family Foundation. “As challenging as this school year is and will be, I’m inspired and energized by families and educators channeling frustration into inspiration in all settings. From parents to policymakers, we all must do whatever it takes to ensure learning continues and #SchoolsIN for students.”

The four-week campaign encourages families, students and educators to share on social media the ups and downs of keeping school in session – with a focus on student success during a difficult school year. From brilliant ideas to flashes of inspiration, and occasional moments of chaos, the campaign will chronicle and celebrate the wide range of experiences people across the country are having in all different types of educational settings, linked by the hashtag #SchoolsIN.  

The Walton Family Foundation has been supporting innovative approaches to teaching and learning for over 30 years, guided by the belief that a great education can put opportunity and a self-determined life in reach for every child, regardless of background. The foundation works alongside and sources ideas from families, educators, innovators and community leaders who have a bold vision for student success. This surfaces new ideas and practices that challenge traditional assumptions about where and how learning happens and what’s possible for children.

To learn more, visit www.schoolsin.org

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About the Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is, at its core, a family-led foundation. Three generations of the descendants of our founders, Sam and Helen Walton, and their spouses, work together to lead the foundation and create access to opportunity for people and communities. We work in three areas: improving K-12 education, protecting rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and investing in our home region of Northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2019, the foundation awarded more than $525 million in grants in support of these initiatives. To learn more, visit waltonfamilyfoundation.org and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram….

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