Waltons Continue to Influence Charter School Debate

Waltons Continue to Influence Charter School Debate

Amid the debate over whether charter schools help or harm African-American children, heirs to the Walmart fortune have been working to convince education advocates and influential leaders in the African-American community that the issue is settled, the Associated Press reports.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately operated, and often located in urban areas with large African-American populations, were designed to serve as an alternative to urban public schools that have long struggled. Indeed, between 2007 and 2016, enrollment of African Americans in charters doubled, to more than seven hundred and sixty thousand. But the growth in popularity of charters has been accompanied by concerns about their impact on the persistent pattern of segregation of public education, uneven student outcomes, and the hollowing-out of neighborhood schools.

In recent years, the Walton Family Foundation, one of the leading supporters of America's charter school movement, has stepped up its support for prominent national African-American organizations like the United Negro College Fund and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation that support charters in principle. But while some African-American leaders view charters as a better, safer alternative to the schools in their communities, the NAACP — which has long expressed skepticism about school privatization and accountability — and the Black Lives Matter movement have called for charter school growth to be curbed. That stance has not gone unnoticed by charter school supporters. When NAACP leaders gathered in Cincinnati in 2016 to discuss charters, the event was met by protesting African-American parents who, it turns out, had been bussed in by a pro-charter advocacy group that had received $1.5 million from the foundation.

Hardly alone in its support of charters, WFF is in the midst of a $1 billion effort dedicated to growing the movement, something it sees as an investment in finding new and better ways to educate kids who struggle in traditional school settings. To that end, the foundation has provided support not only to national education organizations but to local and regional groups. "Those closest to the challenge often have the best solution," Marc Sternberg, who leads the foundation's education efforts, said in a prepared statement released to the AP.

Some educators fear, however, that the foundation is using the African-American community to advance its own agenda. "It's a sad thing," said Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, "that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities."