The family of Walmart founder Sam Walton has announced that their foundation will be donating $1 billion over the next five years to help create new charter schools and to assist programs that have already been established.
Over the past 20 years, the Walton Family Foundation has spent over $1 billion on K-12 education, with $385 million given to start charter schools in low-income communities. They are now involved in supporting schools in approximately two dozen states.
Now, reports Kelly P. Kissel of the Associated Press, the new funding will be used in areas where the foundation has already contributed but where more new schools are needed and “pipelines of talent” need to be developed,” said Marc Sternberg, a former high school principal who directs education philanthropy for the Walton Family Foundation.
“People in poverty need high-performing schools,” Sternberg said. “Our goal is that all families … have better schools. To be the rising tide to lift all boats.”
The foundation wants to give families more options, including charter schools. It is also working to make accessing these publicly funded, but privately operated institutions an easier task. The organization suggests that spreading awareness of charter schools will include providing equitable transportation, educating the public concerning enrollment platforms, fair funding, and easy to find information about the schools’ and students’ performance for families and other interested parties.
Many charter schools, which were first seen in Minnesota in 1992, center on science, math, or the arts. There are some that teach classes in nontraditional settings and work at getting parents more involved in their children’s education. When created, charters were seen as a chance to promote innovation in traditional public schools.
Still, there are charter schools that have not flourished, including four Arkansas schools in which students have performed poorly on standardized tests consistently.
“We know that not every charter school fulfills its promise,” the foundation report said. “On balance, however, it is clear that most charter schools have a positive impact on student learning.”
Kim Anderson, the senior director of the Center for Advocacy and Research at the National Education Association, disagrees. She wishes the family would give money directly to public schools. But the Waltons have funded charters since 1997, and some of the new donation will go to researchers who will keep tabs on the schools’ failures and successes.
Sternberg explained the purpose of the Waltons’ 2015-2020 K-12 Education Strategic Plan is to support traditional district, private, and charter schools. He said that depending on the state, the involvement the foundation has across these three sectors will vary, according to Shea Stewart of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The director added that the funding will only work when government entities, school officials, and others come together for the common agenda. The partnership of all these constituents, not the dollars, will ultimately result in authentic positive change.
The foundation announced in November that $50 million over three years will be given to Teach for America, with $4,757,500 being channeled into TFA programs in Arkansas and the Mississippi River Delta region. This grant, given in honor of Teach for America’s 25th anniversary, will support 4,000 new teacher corps members across the nation, including 800 teachers in Arkansas and Mississippi.