The Walton Family Foundation plans to dramatically increase its spending on education, devoting $1 billion to expand charter schools on a massive scale over the next five years.
The foundation, which is funded by the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, has given a total of $1 billion to education causes in its 20-year history, providing funding to a quarter of the country's charter schools and pumping millions of dollars into school-reform nonprofits like Teach For America.
In the urban areas where the foundation works, it said, it would work to increase school transportation, create systems that allow parents to easily enroll their children in charters, and pass funding formulas that allow state and federal dollars to follow children to schools of their choice. And it will continue to hand out millions of dollars to new and existing charter schools across the country.
"More choices generate more competition," the foundation said in a strategic plan released today. "Competition catalyze[s] systematic improvement."
Alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the foundation started by the billionaire Eli Broad, the Walton Foundation has had a powerful influence on American elementary education. The Waltons have pushed many of the efforts that have become key parts of the education reform movement: evaluating teachers based on their students' test scores, for example, and offering vouchers that allow poor students to attend private schools.
They have also fueled the growth of some of the country's largest charter school networks, including KIPP (the Knowledge is Power Program), which enrolls more than 70,000 students.
Critics of Walton, like left-leaning organizations and teachers unions, have long maintained that charter schools have produced only mixed results. Enrolling large numbers of students in charter and private schools in the name of competition, they say, diverts money from public school districts.