Report for Building Equity Initiative shows continued charter school support from Walton Family Foundation

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 806 views 

The Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville gave $21 million to support charter school facilities in Denver, New York City and Oakland, Calif., in the past year, according to its Year One Report on the Building Equity Initiative, released Tuesday (Oct. 10).

The report states the three cities are expected to expand their reach by 6,900 children by 2027 as a result of the program. Charter schools receive public funding but operate independently of the public school system.

Thomas Gougeon, president of the Gates Family Foundation, works with the Walton Foundation through the Colorado Charter Facilities Solutions organization in Denver, and he projects the partnership will lead to the creation of facilities in the city to serve about 40,000 additional students over the next 10 years, according to the report.

The Walton Foundation said the BEI, founded last year, is a “first-of-its-kind effort,” where it is helping to connect charter schools with funding to build facilities and expand existing ones, while also creating a network of resources like real estate specialists, financiers, lenders and technical service providers for the schools to draw upon, according to the report.

“Much work remains. In year two, we plan to build on the successes of year one while continuing to develop new and unprecedented ways to make capital easier and more affordable for those who need it most: charter school founders,” the foundation stated in the report.

K-12 education, and charter schools in particular, have been a key focus for the Walton Foundation’s philanthropy for about 25 years. Since 1992, the foundation has invested more than $1.3 billion in K-12 education and supported one-quarter of the 6,700 charter schools in the U.S., according to the foundation’s website.

In 2016, the foundation awarded $190.9 million in grants for K-12 initiatives, according to its annual report, which was released in May. The foundation awarded $454.5 million in grants last year, in total. That number doesn’t including funding for education programs in Arkansas and the Mississippi Delta, on which the foundation spent an estimated $8 million for pre-K–12 and higher education, according to the foundation.

For K-12, KIPP Delta Public Schools at $2.1 million received the largest share of grants in the category. Teach for America followed at $1.7 million. Haas Hall Academy and Northwest Arkansas Independent School each received $1.6 million, according to the report. KIPP Delta Public Schools is a charter school network in the Delta region of Arkansas, and Haas Hall Academy is a charter school with campuses in Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale.

Charter schools are a divisive social issue in the U.S. Supporters say charter schools increase choices for parents in terms of their children’s academic career and allow educators to innovate and cut through bureaucracies they believe inhibit education.

Opponents of charter schools say money would be better spent investing in improvement of existing, traditional public schools. In some communities, charter schools have been charged with having a lack of diversity, and some opponents say they contribute to the probability of segregation.

There are 24 open-enrollment charter schools and 34 conversion charter schools in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Department of Education website. Open-enrollment schools can draw students from across district lines and are operated by an independent board. Conversion charter schools are converted from traditional public schools and operate within the school district they are in.

A list of the other grant recipients in the Home Region grant report that appear to be related to K-12 education follows.
Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation, $325,769
Arkansas Arts Academy, $166,401
Rogers Public Schools, $123,364
Bentonville Public Schools, $114,400
Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science, $75,000
Pea Ridge School District, $25,000

On a national level, the foundation donated to 268 organizations in the education category in 2016. The beneficiaries of the largest donations were the Colorado-based Charter School Growth Fund, which received about $23 million and Teach for America, which received $15.1 million, according the report.

A list of the programs and organizations that received at least $1 million last year from the Walton Foundation and listed by the foundation under the K-12 education category follows.
Charter Fund, $22,960,000
Teach for America, $15,046,000
Building Excellent Schools, $6,181,601
KIPP Foundation, $6,006,935
New Teacher Project, $5,500,000
California Charter Schools Association, $5,000,000
Leadership for Educational Equity Foundation, $5,000,000
NewSchools Venture Fund, $3,960,289
Education Reform Now, $3,635,775
Alliance for School Choice, $3,275,000
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, $2,928,777
National Association of Charter School Authorizers, $2,630,455
Foundation for Excellence in Education, $2,550,000
Excellent Education Development, $2,500,000
50CAN, $2,327,435
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), $2,317,136
Education Forward DC, $2,300,000
Charter Schools Development Corporation, $2,200,000
GreatSchools, $2,000,000
Relay Graduate School of Education, $2,000,000
Families for Excellent Schools, $1,800,000
Philadelphia Schools Project a/k/a Philadelphia Schools Partnership, $1,666,667
Education Pioneers, $1,650,000
The Arizona Charter Schools Association, $1,550,000
United Negro College Fund, $1,450,747
Education Trust, $1,420,000
President and Fellows of Harvard College, $1,384,786
Schools That Can Milwaukee, $1,350,000
4.0 Schools, $1,300,000
The Mind Trust, $1,215,000
Illinois Network of Charter Schools, $1,191,144
New Schools for New Orleans, $1,150,000
Character Lab, $1,119,747
National Public Radio, $1,060,454
Minneapolis Foundation, $1,000,000
Success Academy Charter Schools, $1,000,000