Walmart heirs promote charter schools among black community

Walmart heirs promote charter schools among black community

Amid fierce debate over whether charter schools are good for black students, the heirs to the Walmart company fortune have been working to make inroads with advocates and influential leaders in the black community.

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and non-profit grants data.

“Those closest to the challenge often have the best solution,” Marc Sternberg, who leads the Walton Family Foundation’s education efforts, said in a prepared statement.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated, are often located in urban areas with large back populations, intended as alternatives to struggling city schools. Black enrolment in charters has doubled over the course of a decade, to more than 760,000 students as of 2015-16, according to the latest federal data, but the rise also has been marked by concerns about racial segregation, inconsistent student outcomes, and the hollowing-out of neighbourhood public schools.

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

When NAACP leaders gathered to discuss charters in 2016, a group of demonstrators led the Cincinnati hotel to complain to police that they were trespassing. The three buses that brought the 150 black parents from Tennessee on the 14-hour road trip were provided by The Memphis Lift, an advocacy group that has received $1.5 million from the Walton foundation since 2015.

Deidra Brooks, chief of staff for The Memphis Lift, said they were not asked by Walton to carry out the protest and declined to say how much of their budget came from the foundation. The start-up advocacy group seeded by Walton money also provides parents school choice counselling and advocacy training.

Like U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and many other deep-pocketed billionaire philanthropists, the Walmart heirs — one of America’s richest families — embrace charter schools and education reform as an avenue to help the neediest. The Walton foundation is in the midst of a $1 billion pledge dedicated to expanding charters, which they see as investments to find better ways to educate those who struggle in traditional school systems.

Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Walton foundation’s reliance on black faces to makes its case for charters suggests that they’re exploiting black people for a “white agenda.”

“It’s a sad thing that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities,” Perry said.

Much of the $9 million granted to the United Negro College Fund has been spent on the scholarship organization’s fellowship program for students interested in education reform. Likewise, the Waltons gave $170,000 in recent years to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to sponsor education policy advocacy and campaign training workshops.

Walton money totals nearly $2 million to the 100 Black Men of America campaign and $7.3 million to the National Urban League. Both groups have strong ties to charter schools on the ground.

The Waltons have given small amounts to other kinds of black community groups, as well, including the New England Blacks in Philanthropy organization, the Association of Black Foundation Executives and the National Black Child Development Institute.

And this year, the foundation sponsored a luncheon at a Detroit conference for the National Association of Black Journalists, which was advertised as “The Importance of Educating our Black Children” and primarily featured Walton’s pro-charter grantees as panel speakers.

“Of course we’ve seen push back from people in general, but that goes with privatization. The forces of privatization are powerful and have friends in all sorts of places,” said Victor Goode, the NAACP’s education director.

After the NAACP proposed the moratorium, Walton money had a hand in the highly publicized debate that followed. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an advocacy group that has received more than $16 million from Walton, organized a campaign that urged the NACCP to reconsider, including a letter signed by more than 160 black education leaders.

Among them was prominent charter advocate Howard Fuller, a former Milwaukee schools superintendent. The Waltons gave $17 million to his now-defunct advocacy group, the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Another outspoken critic of the moratorium idea, Chris Stewart, leads the Wayfinder Foundation, an advocacy group that has received nearly $2 million from Walton. He’s suggested that the country’s oldest civil rights group was in the pocket of teacher union interests, an issue he pushed using the #FreeTheNAACP hashtag online.

“In any city, if you’re advocating for charters, you are out of your depth. There’s no way you are going to match the number of foot soldiers who are going to support an anti-charter narrative,” Stewart said of the public teacher unions who stand to lose with non-unionized schools.

Sternberg of the Walton foundation said any aggressive acts of advocacy its grantees take in the debate are rooted in the impatience over a century of educational inequity for blacks. The foundation also points to $120,000 in grants it has given to the NAACP in the past two years for event sponsorship, and its support of other black civil rights groups over the past 25 years.

“This is not our agenda,” Sternberg said. “This is way bigger than us.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dwayne Buckle, 40 of Red Deer finished a 1,638-kilometre walk, in honour of his family. The 12-week, 82 day-journey wrapped up in Port Hardy, B.C. on Monday. Facebook photo
Red Deer man completes 1,638 km hike for cancer research

Dwayne Buckle, a Red Deer firefighter returned home Friday after his 12-week journey

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveres to Canada are being delayed because of complications at their European distribution facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Delays of Pfizer vaccine delivery to impact Alberta’s vaccination plans

Alberta has administered 74,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine so far

Two inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19. (Black Press File Photo)
2 Bowden inmates test positive for COVID-19

A pair of inmates at Bowden Institution have tested positive for COVID-19.… Continue reading

Salons and barbershops are able to open on Monday, the Government of Alberta announced this week. (Photo courtesy Pixabay)
Red Deer salon owner “relieved” business can re-open next week

The owner of a Red Deer salon says she’s “definitely relieved” her… Continue reading

Red Deer Valhalla Pure Outfitters owner Darren Schaedeli has seen a significant increase in those looking to tackle winter experiences. Some are trying their hand at "hot tent camping" as he did in the West Country several weeks ago.
Photo contributed
Central Albertans enjoying the great outdoors this winter

Stir crazy and beach-deprived central Albertans are embracing the great outdoors this… Continue reading

Lesser Slave Lake UCP MLA Pat Rehn. (Facebook)
Updated: Jason Kenney kicks Lesser Slave Lake MLA out of caucus

Pat Rehn will not be permitted to run for UCP nominations

Manchester United's Tobin Heath celebrates scoring against West Ham United during the FA Women's Super League match at Victoria Road Stadium, London, Sunday Oct. 18, 2020. (John Walton/PA via AP)
Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

Double 1st: Man U men, women leading 2 leagues, play champs

A group of Buffalo Bills fans from Toronto pose for a photo while tailgating in the parking lot of New Era Field before an NFL football game between the Bills and the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Orchard Park, N.Y. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Adrian Kraus
Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

Being unable to attend Bills playoff games due to pandemic pains Canadian fans

FILE - Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant runs the bases after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning during a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland, in this Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020, file photo. Bryant is among roughly 125 players who entered Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, eligible to exchange salary arbitration figures with their teams. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Lindor, Bryant, Bellinger, Seager get big-money deals

Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash points during the third quarter of the team's NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, in New York. (Brad Penner/Pool Photo via AP)
More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

More NBA games off, as league continues struggles with virus

Washington Capitals' Jakub Vrana (13) is congratulated for his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Vanecek makes 28 saves in NHL debut, Capitals sweep Sabres

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Collin Delia (60) makes a save after Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) fell down during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Stamkos, Palat lift Lightning over Blackhawks again

Canadian women's soccer team member Rhian Wilkinson is seen during a training session in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 21, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson leaves Canada Soccer coaching job

Former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson leaves Canada Soccer coaching job

Tkachuk, Senators down Maple Leafs 5-3 in 1st game in 10 months

Tkachuk, Senators down Maple Leafs 5-3 in 1st game in 10 months

Most Read