Walmart made business news this month when it announced that it is closing 269 stores this year and will no longer build two superstores it had promised to build in D.C. to serve some of its poorest residents, infuriating city officials. Why? This Washington Post story explains:
The giant retailer cited increasing costs for the new projects and disappointing performance at the three D.C. stores it opened over the past several years. But news that Walmart would pull out of two supercenters planned for east of the Anacostia River, where its wares and jobs are wanted most, shocked D.C. leaders. In one case, the city had already committed $90 million to make a development surrounding one of the stores viable. “I’m blood mad,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said.”
Yet the Walton family, whose members are the principal owners of Walmart stock, certainly like spending money in the District on one favored project: school choice.
The Walton Family Foundation — which says it has given some $1.3 billion in K-12 education across the country over the last two decades, largely to support charter schools and fuel the “school choice” movement — announced this month that it is committing $1 billion over the next five years to help expand charter and other school choice options across the country. That includes money in the District, where the foundation has been funding charters and school vouchers for years.
The foundation says that since 1997, it has invested “more than $385 million in 2,110 new public charter schools — about a quarter of all charters nationally,” and that in 2015 alone, it supported 100 new charters with more than $20 million in grants. That’s 20 percent of the charters that opened across the country last year.
The Walton foundation says it funds school choice to provide better education opportunities for the United States’ poorest students. Critics say that the conservative Waltons are intent on privatizing public education and are part of an informal group of billionaires who, in the last decade or so, have contributed vast sums of money to push their favored education reforms. The foundation with the largest investment in controversial school reform is funded by Bill and Melinda Gates; the second largest belongs to the Waltons.
In June, a report issued by the American Federation of Teachers and a group called In the Public Interest accused the Walton foundation of having a “radical agenda” that has “taken the U.S. charter school movement away from education quality in favor of a strategy focused only on growth.” It says:
Under the guise of “choice” to improve schools for low-income children, WFF has supported the unregulated growth of a privatized education industry — quantity over quality, and “freedom” over regulation. It’s been lucrative for some, but a disaster for many of the nation’s most vulnerable students and school districts….
Fundamental to the Waltons’ belief in an unfettered market is opposition to any limits on the number of charter schools allowed in a given state or district. In the early years of chartering, many state legislatures placed caps on growth as a way to maintain control over the quality of the schools. WFF grantees have doggedly opposed these caps.
To better understand the foundation’s philosophy and why critics accuse it of trying to destroy public education, here’s the full report: