In pursuit of hurting public schools, Walton family funds far-right school operator

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A Slate report last week revealed that Responsive Education Solutions (RES), a charter school operator whose expansion into Arkansas is funded by the Walton Family Foundation, has close ties to far-right creationists and opponents of the separation of church and state.

The Walton Family Foundation, led by the moneyed heirs to Walmart co-founder Sam Walton, is one of the leading funders of the corporate education reform movement that aims to undermine public schools by expanding charter school and voucher programs that funnel public tax dollars to private schools.

Curriculum materials from Responsive Ed schools in Texas, obtained by Slate, show that RES schools have made a mockery of science education by teaching creationism and attempting to discredit evolution. Moreover, the RES history curriculum is riddled with racist, sexist, and homophobic cultural biases and outright factual errors.

Given the limited courtesy that RES schools apparently give to science or accuracy, it may be no surprise that the operator’s schools were identified as poor performers in a charter school study performed by CREDO, a pro-charter, Hoover Institution-affiliated think tank at Stanford University. Strikingly, CREDO and Hoover also receive funding from the Walton Family Foundation—so even Walton-backed organizations have identified problems with RES.

The Waltons ought not to be funding an organization that plays so fast and loose with the education of children, let alone praise it as “a highly successful charter organization,” as the Walton Family Foundation did last year in this press release.

But sadly, the Waltons’ relationship with the disaster that is RES just goes to show how far they will go in their pursuit of destabilizing and weakening public education.

Nine Ways Walmart’s Ruling Family Is Funding a Far-Right Agenda

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The list Buzzfeed doesn’t want you to see
We originally posted this story on Buzzfeed, but without notifying us they took it down yesterday, claiming it was a “personal attack.” We don’t think that sharing factual information about the Waltons’ agenda is a personal attack – it’s just the truth that people deserve to know.

 

A brief guide to the political activities of the Walton family, the majority owners of Walmart. After all, they have enough money to fill a large backyard pool with solid gold.

They’re ruining public schools.

Since 2005, the family has dropped over $1 billion[1] to destroy public schools and treat K-12 education like venture capitalism. They’ve given to myriad voucher, charter school, and corporate education reform advocacy organizations, including the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice;  union-buster Stand for Children; and Michelle Rhee’s pro-privatization, pro-high stakes testing organization, Students First. Basically, they’ve appointed themselves to make decisions about education because they are rich as hell. Never mind that their pro-privatization approach doesn’t work, and never mind that ending poverty—like maybe among Walmart’s 1.4 million low-wage workers?—would do more than anything else to make kids’ lives and school outcomes better. Plus? Several groups they’ve doled out money to are plagued with scandal.

 

They love haters.

Why

The Waltons use their billions to fund haters like Jason Rapert – the Arkansas legislator who opposes gay adoption, wants to mandate vaginal probes for women seeking an abortion, and still suggests that President Obama was born in Kenya. Rapert’s no anomaly. From 1990 to 2012, 84% of Walton family spending on Congressional races went to candidates with a ZERO (out of 100) rating on women’s issues from the American Association of University Women.

In 2012, Jim Walton contributed $500 to the re-election campaign of Loy Mauch, an Arkansas state legislator who has called the Confederate flag a “symbol of Jesus Christ” and acknowledged membership in the “neo-confederate” secessionist group known as League of the South. It wasn’t until Mauch’s views and Walton’s contribution made headlines that Jim Walton asked that the contribution be returned.

 

They helped create the shutdown.

Since the 2004 election cycle, Walmart has given over $1.5 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, the group that helped the GOP secure control over the redistricting process before the 2012 elections. That year, Republicans took 54% of House seats despite winning only 45% of the popular vote, enabling them to grind the government to a halt, even without the support of most Americans.

 

They contributed to the rise of Scott Walker and his cronies in Wisconsin.

From 2009-2010, the election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, Alice Walton was the top individual donor to Wisconsin legislators according to WisconsinWatch.org. Alice and five other Waltons were among the top fifteen political donors in Wisconsin legislative races during that election cycle. Since 2010, the Waltons have given $55,000 to Scott Walker, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The legislative victories they contributed to, combined with the family foundation’s multi-million dollar efforts to fund experiments in school choice in the state, serve as a multi-pronged approach to further their conservative agenda.

 

They tried to prevent gay families from adopting.

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Walmart heir and board member Jim Walton gave $75,000 to Arkansas’s Family Council Action Committee in 2008. At the time, the group was backing a ballot initiative that would prevent gay and lesbian families from serving as adoptive or foster families. Jim Walton’s contribution was equal to 55% of the group’s political spending that year. The measure passed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court struck it down last year.

 

They push their right-wing vision through ALEC.

(With apologies to Alec Baldwin) The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is infamous for promoting legislation that advances a conservative ideological agenda and benefits its members at the expense of everyone else. The organization developed and promoted anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. It has also been an ardent supporter of the privatization of education, voter-ID laws–which distort our democracy by making it harder for low-income people and people of color to vote–and is becoming increasingly known for having developed the “Stand Your Ground” law that became notorious following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation were listed side by side as chairman-level sponsors of the conservative group’s annual meeting in August 2011. Following public pressure last spring, Walmart withdrew from the controversial organization, but the Walton Family Foundation has yet to publicly sever ties with ALEC.

 

They spend their money on the NRA’s top politicians.

Walmart is nation’s largest seller of guns and ammunition. Between the 2010 and 2012 federal election cycles, Walmart’s PAC gave nearly $1 million to candidates endorsed by the NRA. The Waltons gave another half a million to NRA-endorsed federal politicians over that time period, including super PAC funds. In fact, among politicians with 2012 grades from the NRA, 84% of the Waltons’ 2010-2012 cycle contributions went to candidates with scores between A+ and A-.

 

They make super contributions to super PACs.

Mitt-Romney-Laughing

The Waltons gave almost $900,000 to super PACs in the 2012 cycle. Of that, $400,000 went to Restore Our Future, the super PAC associated with Mitt Romney. As of last June, there were only 356 donors—including Jim and Alice Walton—who had given over $100,000 to super PACs…because most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend on our personal agendas.

 

They lobbied to avoid paying their fair share.

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During George W. Bush’s presidency, the Waltons and a host of other wealthy families worked to repeal the estate tax and save a ton on taxes. They hired a lobbyist and contributed heavily to politicians who were on their side, in order to save a fortune from beyond the grave. As a recent feature in Bloomberg confirmed, the Waltons continue to use creative mechanisms to skip out on their bill from American taxpayers.


[1] Based on: 1) Reports of grant funding in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 on the Walton Family Foundation website (and archived versions of the website from the Internet Archive, http://www.archive.org), and 2) A review of donations to candidates for school board positions, education PACs, and charter school ballot initiatives, obtained from campaign finance databases in the following states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

ADVISORY: Students, Teachers March From Closing Chicago School to Walmart Site

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MEDIA ADVISORY FOR

Tuesday, May 14th 2013

CONTACT

Nick Sifuentes, 310-866-1692, nick@berlinrosen.com

 

Students, Teachers, Education Advocates March From Closing School to Walmart Site

Marchers to Call Out Walton Family for Undermining Chicago Public School System

Majority of Chicago School Closures In Communities of Color, Low-Income Neighborhoods

Chicago, IL – On Tuesday, May 14th, over a hundred students, teachers, community leaders, education advocates and their supporters will march from Overton Elementary School (221 E. 49th St.) to a nearby construction site for a new Walmart store at 4701 S. Cottage Grove Ave. to protest the Walton family’s efforts to undermine Chicago’s public schools.

Marchers will gather at Overton Elementary School and proceed to the Walmart construction site, where they will hold a rally led by the Chicago Teachers’ Union. There, they will call on the Walton family to stop funding efforts to close Chicago’s public schools.

The Walton family, the richest family in America and heirs to the Walmart fortune, have given millions of dollars to initiatives which strip money from public schools, including nearly half a million dollars in support of Chicago Public Schools’ proposed school closures. Meanwhile, in 2012, the family spent $3.8 million—more money than they spent in any other city—opening new charter schools. The vast majority of the schools closing in Chicago serve low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, leaving many of these areas without local schools.

Walmart has eight stores in Chicago and two more under construction. Walmart workers earn low wages and benefits and often lack access to affordable, quality healthcare. Meanwhile, warehouse workers who supply Walmart goods have called on Walmart to require its contractors to guarantee safe workplaces and fair treatment. In addition, the company is notorious for finding ways to finance its operations on the backs of taxpayers; to help build new stores in Chicago, Walmart is leaning on a tax scheme that diverts money to developers and away from schools and other critical services.

WHO: Students, teachers, community leaders, local residents and education advocates

WHAT: March from Overton Elementary School to Walmart construction site in Bronzeville

WHEN: Overton Elementary: 4:00pm, Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Walmart site: 4:30pm, Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

WHERE: Overton Elementary School, 221 E. 49th St., to a nearby construction site for a new Walmart store at 4701 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees.

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How the Waltons could contribute to real improvements in kids’ educations

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In Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed making universal preschool available to all American children. Implementation of early childhood education programs doesn’t come without some upfront costs, of course, but research demonstrates that it’s a great investment that leads to positive long-term outcomes in children’s lives. In particular, it benefits poor children, helping narrow achievement gaps that often exist between them and their wealthier peers.

The Walton family is big into education reform—you’d think they’d be major supporters of broader access to preschool, particularly since it would especially help the children of Walmart’s low-wage associates, right? Nope. In 2006, Walmart director and Walton family member Greg Penner contributed $250,000 to an effort opposing a universal pre-kindergarten program in California. (It would take the average full-time Walmart worker 14 years to earn as much money as Penner dropped on this one race.) The program would have been funded through an additional income tax on the state’s very wealthiest people—individuals making individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.

Rather than support investments and improvements in education that are supported by evidence, the Waltons base their efforts in education reform around their strong ideological belief in undermining public education. So rather than sacrifice a tiny portion of their wealth to a public preschool program, they instead spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding pro-voucher and pro-charter organizations, politicians, political action committees, and ballot issues.

The Walton family became the richest family in the nation by creating a business built on ruthless cost-cutting and low-wage, low-benefit jobs—the kinds of jobs that keep families and children in poverty. If the Waltons are really, truly serious about improving childrens’ educations and lives, they should set aside their privatization ideology, support early childhood education, and use their influence at Walmart to turn millions of Walmart jobs into good jobs with a living wage and benefits.

Does Jim Walton think public schools are a Communist plot?

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We recently wrote about a $500 campaign donation that Jim Walton—youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, member of Walmart’s Board of Directors, and Chairman and CEO of the Walton-owned Arvest Bank—sent to Arkansas State Rep. Loy Mauch, and called for Walton to withdraw his donation and publicly reject Mauch’s extremist neo-Confederate views.

The Arkansas Times reported last week that, according to a Walton family consultant, Jim Walton wrote Mauch on October 22, asked for hiWhich of Loy Mauch's extreme views on education attracted Jim Walton's support?s contribution to be returned, and received his money back. “The contribution was made because of your support for education reform in Arkansas,” Walton’s letter reads. “Since making the contribution, however, I have learned about some of your views on other issues[,] with which I disagree.”

Let’s set aside for a moment that Jim Walton (well, or his consultants) must not have done much background research if they were unaware of Mauch’s repugnant opinions about slavery and the Confederacy, which were covered in a November 2010 Arkansas Times profile of Mauch and which he outlined in about 50 letters to the editor to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette between 2000 and 2010. (Summary: slavery must not have been such a terrible thing since the Bible doesn’t specifically say it was terrible,[1] Abraham Lincoln was a terrorist[2] and a war criminal,[3] and secession “is the only cure for this country’s destructive addiction to socialism.”[4])

The fact is that Mauch’s espoused opinions on education are pretty extreme as well. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Public education was forced upon the South during Reconstruction to complete the aim of the radical socialists, which was to destroy Southern conservatism.”[5]
  • “Public education is one of the 10 planks of the Communist Manifesto.”[6]
  • Desegregation of American schools “was never about education, but rather the post-American, despotic federal government coercing its will by using the military to execute the whims of a tyrannical judiciary.”[7]

So are these the views on education that Jim Walton meant to support with his campaign contribution to Mauch? He and his family are major funders of efforts to undermine public schools, of course, but these views seem beyond the pale even for corporate-style education reformers.  Jim Walton’s support of Mauch specifically for his “education reform” positions might give us more of a window into the Waltons education agenda than Jim would have liked.


[1] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 15, 2003.

[2] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 13, 2001.

[3] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 14, 2005.

[4] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 18, 2009

[5] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 4, 2006.

[6] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 16, 2006.

[7] Letter to the Editor by Loy Mauch, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 14, 2007.

Chicago teachers strike against corporate education interests and for better schools for kids. Guess which side the Waltons are on?

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CTU march in Chicago

CTU solidarity march, 9/10/2012 (photo from Chicago Jobs with Justice)

Members of the Chicago Teachers Union are on strike, in a “fight for the soul of public education,” according to a CTU organizer. On one side in this fight are teachers who are advocating not only for themselves but for their students too, calling for smaller class sizes, expanded student support services, and a broad curriculum that includes art and music classes. On the other side are right-wing, anti-teacher education reformers like the Walton family, who, as we’ve seen, have a keen interest in undermining America’s public schools and are one of the largest funders of the right-wing education reform movement nationwide.

Indeed, the Walton Family Foundation has given more than $1 billion to corporate-style education reform initiatives, including millions[1] to the pro-voucher, pro-privatization Alliance for School Choice, where Walmart heir Carrie Penner is also a member of the Board of Directors. In Chicago, in 2011 alone, the family spent more than $3 million funding organizations like Stand for Children, which pushed through state legislation that weakens teachers’ job protections and tried to make it harder for Chicago’s teachers to take a stand for themselves and their students by going on strike.

It’s no surprise that the Waltons are involved in a brand of education reform that is so fiercely anti-teacher—they and their family company are notorious union-busters, and we consider their education efforts a continuation of Walmart’s anti-worker policies. (The family’s foundation has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-union National Right to Work Foundation in the guise of “shaping public policy” in education.[2]) Teachers and their allies understand what the favored policies of the Waltons and their friends in Chicago are about, though, and know what’s at stake: As the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday, many view the corporate reform efforts in their city “as a brazen attempt to shift public resources into private hands, to break the power of teachers unions, and to reduce the teaching profession to test preparation.” That’s not the teachers’ vision for Chicago’s public schools and that’s why they are courageously fighting back.


[1] Nearly $5 million total in just 2009, 2010, and 2011.

[2] More than $300,000 total in just 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Walmartization of Washington Schools?

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Alice Walton becomes 2nd biggest donor to charter school initiative

Yesterday, the Washington Secretary of State’s office certified Initiative 1240 for the state’s November ballot. I-1240 would essentially permit charter schools in Washington, which currently doesn’t accommodate them.  The signature filing deadline was July 6; five days later, Alice Walton—who lives in Texas, not the Pacific Northwest—gave $600,000 to the pro-charter school committee.

If passed, newly created charter schools would be exempt from some of the rules and regulations governing the state’s public schools, while operating within the same budget. In the words of the Washington Education Association, “I-1240 siphons taxpayer funding from existing public school classrooms into a new system of unaccountable, privately managed charter schools.”

This is not the first time an initiative like this has come up in Washington State, and it’s not the first time a Walton has backed it. According to the Secretary of State’s blog, “The concept was narrowly defeated in 2000 and lost by larger majorities in 1996 and 2004.” In 2004, John Walton, Alice’s late brother, contributed over $1 million toward the initiative. Like his sister, John Walton was not a Washington State resident, yet he was the biggest contributor toward the referendum that cycle. So far this year, Alice Walton is the second biggest donor to the charter school initiative, only to be outdone by Bill Gates, who narrowly came in second to John Walton eight years ago. Alice Walton has contributed 18% of the funds raised so far.

In short, the Waltons have a history of spending big to advance their agenda, even in states they have no ties to.

As the Seattle Times points out, the Waltons are influencing education policy in Washington State from more than one angle. If voters pass I-1240, “They agree that Washington charter schools must follow practices developed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Robertson Foundation – some of the very people bankrolling the initiative.” In fact, the political arm of a Walton Family Foundation grantee, Education Reform Now, has also contributed to the initiative campaign.

While Alice Walton and John Walton have spent to support charter schools, their nephew Greg Penner fought against one education initiative that would have raised his taxes. In 2006, Penner contributed $250,000 to a campaign against proposed Proposition 82 in California. The proposition, sponsored by actor and director Rob Reiner, sought to establish a universal preschool system in California for four-year-olds by placing an additional income tax on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.[1]

Walmart helping to undermine tax base

While the Waltons like to talk about their support of education, Walmart is taking steps at multiple levels to reduce their tax bill and thereby reduce funding to schools. Good Jobs First has documented that Walmart has received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.   In Grandview, Washington, Walmart received a $1 million subsidy to open a distribution center in 2004.

A 2011 report found that Walmart aggressively seeks to avoid paying taxes.

For every kind of tax that a retail company would normally pay or remit to support public services, Walmart has engineered an aggressive scheme to pay less and keep more.

The report concludes:

When Walmart avoids paying its fair share of state and local taxes, only two things can happen: either working families and small businesses pay higher taxes or the quality of schools and other public services goes down, or some of both.

Finally, Walmart also strains public budgets in Washington (and many other states) by being the largest employer of workers who use taxpayer-subsidized health coverage.[2]

Millions spent distorting democracy

The Waltons, whose wealth is equivalent to that of the bottom 42% of Americans and mostly comes from Walmart, have spent over $7 million in state-level politics since the 1990 election cycle, according to data compiled from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. About half was spent on ballot initiatives; 44% was spent on Republican politicians and committees; and 4% went to Democrats. At the federal level, the Waltons have spent nearly $5.1 million over the same time period. About 80% of that went to Republican candidates and committees, including nearly $550,000 to newly emerging super PACsassociated with contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination.


[1] Furillo, Andy, “Election law quirk spurs protests; Preschool initiative backers want to know where foes got funds.” Sacramento Bee. 3 May 2006.

[2] Sean Cockerham, “A Ranking Wal-Mart Could Live Without.” Tacoma News Tribune. 1 Dec 2006.

Money from the Walmart 1 Percent may have cost California politician

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Even as more Los Angeles politicians are pledging to refuse contributions from Walmart, one candidate with Walton family support placed third in the closely-watched June 6th primary for Assembly District 46 in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.

Charter school champion Brian Johnson lost the race despite massive independent expenditures on his behalf by political action committees, including two that are closely tied to Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Greg Penner. Ms. Penner is the daughter of Walmart Chairman Rob Walton and Mr. Penner is a member of the Walmart Board of Directors.

Nazarian Flier

PAC spending was widely expected to carry Johnson into the general election. But in the end it may have hurt more than it helped.

Johnson was put on the defensive by winning candidate Adrin Nazarian’s charge that “right-wing anti-teacher organizations funded by the owners of the Walmart Corporation are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect Brian Johnson to the Assembly.”

Johnson’s campaign issued a response  which implied that Nazarian’s claim was unfounded, but campaign finance records suggest otherwise.

In the first place, Carrie Walton Penner contributed $7,800 directly to Johnson’s campaign, according to reports filed with the California Secretary of State. But this is not the whole story because Johnson’s campaign spent just $367,000, while independent committees backing him reportedly poured another $1.5 million into the race.

There is good reason to believe the Penners contributed to Johnson via these independent committees. In April, Carrie Penner contributed $128,500 to the Edvoice Independent Expenditure Committee, an organization to which she has given more than $600,000 since 2010. During the campaign, Edvoice made more than $166,900 in independent expenditures on Johnson’s behalf.

Another political committee that backed Johnson was Govern for California, established last year by Greg Penner and two associates — multi-millionaire retired banker and former Swarzenegger adviser David Crane and billionaire high-tech investor Ron Conway. Govern for California pumped more than $191,000 into efforts on Johnson’s behalf, according to our analysis of campaign finance reports.

The one-percenters who backed Johnson share a commitment to a narrow vision of education reform and a deep dislike for teachers unions. As Reuters explains, their agenda includes:

Expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but typically run by private firms; evaluating teachers in large part by their students’ scores on standardized tests; and abolishing the seniority rules that protect veteran teachers from layoffs.

The Penners have played a leading role in the Walton family’s efforts to undermine public education and blame teachers for the problems facing public schools.

Beyond the issue of education, Govern for California’s founders have made it clear that they view public sector workers as “narrow special interests” whose pay and pensions should be cut to solve California’s fiscal crisis (see also here, here, and here).

Johnson was the first candidate publicly supported by Penner’s Govern for California organization. Despite the organization’s PR-efforts, it is clearly a defeat for them that he failed to advance to the general election.

As people around the nation and around the globe increasingly recognize how Walmart hurts our economy and the Walmart 1 Percent distort our democracy, taking money from Walmart or the Walton family may carry an increasing downside for politicians concerned with winning elections.

How is the Walmart 1% Undermining Public Education?

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To read a summary, click here.

What do the Waltons’ education schemes really mean for kids?

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Bad news for the Waltons: The Walton Family Foundation’s favorite approach to education reform, “school choice,” seems not to be working out too well—at least if you’re looking for actual academic improvement and not just a corporate-style restructuring of America’s public schools.

As journalist David Sirota reported last week, recent studies indicate that charters are performing worse than the traditional public schools that the Waltons are trying to weaken. One study found that just 17 percent of charters reported significantly better results than traditional public schools, while 37 percent reported significantly worse results.

Interestingly, that particular study was conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)—a pro-charter and pro-school voucher think tank affiliated with the university’s conservative Hoover Institution—and funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation. Even a study funded by the Waltons concludes that the family’s education agenda is falling short.

Are the Waltons really interested in creating schools that work for kids? Or, as Sirota argues, does the Walton family “embrace [charter schools] for their ability to crush teachers unions”?

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