Reaffirming its commitment to charter schools, the Walton Family Foundation pledged $1 billion to support and bolster charter programs, according to the Associated Press.
The Walton Foundation, the philanthropic group run by the Walmart family, has pledged to provide the money over the next five years.
The $1 billion pledge matches what the foundation has spent over the past 20 years of its charitable giving to charter schools.
The donation follows the foundation’s trend of giving heavily to the charter school industry.
With roughly $2.5 billion in assets, the Walmart foundation has thrown an enormous amount of muscle into the charter school movement — particularly in Washington, DC, where the Waltons have bankrolled numerous charter school endeavours.
“Walton has subsidized an entire charter school system in the nation’s capital,” The New York Times reported in 2014, “helping to fuel enrollment growth so that close to half of all public school students in the city now attend charters.”
Charter schools have been gaining in popularity throughout the US amid claims that they outperform traditional public schools. They started in the 1990s as alternatives to traditional public schools and receive both public and private funding. However, they’re not governed by the same rules as public schools, especially with regard to state-mandated testing.
Critics of charter schools argue that they funnel essential funding away from public schools, harming public school students in the process.
Further, critics argue, charters only represent about 6% of the total public school population and distract from funding substantive improvements for all students.
And evidence of the positive impact of charter schools on their students has been called into question. One of the most highly cited studies of charter school critics is a 2009 Stanford paper finding they had a mixed impact on student achievement. Some states have seen students at charters perform better than their peers at non-charter public schools, while others have seen them perform worse, according to the study that looked at charters in 16 states.
Kevin G. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at University of Colorado in Boulder, argued that the Waltons’ support of charter schools may end up hurting students in other public schools.
“When lots of charter schools open up, it’s like a new Walmart store moving in,” Welner told The Times in 2014.
“You could look at it and say, ‘Well, the schools in a community are losing families because of healthy competition the same way that the hardware store is losing customers because of healthy competition.’ But that doesn’t take into account the long-term harms to the community, which are probably greater than any short-term benefit.”
Marc Sternberg, the Walton Family Foundation director of K-12 education reform, disagrees with that premise. “What’s the argument there?” Sternberg told the Times in an interview. “Don’t help anybody until you can help everybody?”
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