How Walton Shapes the School Voucher Movement

It's no secret that the Walton Family Foundation sees school choice as the key element in school reform. So it should come as no surprise that, in addition to its well-known support of charter schools across the country, Walton funding has also helped shape the debate over school vouchers in state capitals across the country.

According to a recent Washington Post news report, Walton pumped $6 million into the pro-voucher lobby, the Alliance for School Choice, essentially doubling the nonprofit's budget. The Post reported that the Washington-based organization reported total revenue of $6.38 million in 2011. The Alliance is chaired by Betsy DeVos, a Michigan Republican activist and the wife of Amway heir Dick DeVos.

The Walton Foundation has always allocated a portion of its education grantmaking to helping influence the policy debate in favor of school choice policies, such as charters and vouchers. In one year alone, the foundation spent $60 million on policy-related activities at the federal, state, and local level. The $6 million gift to the Alliance for School Choice is consistent with that goal of advocating pro-school-choice policies. Walton has supported the Alliance in the past, though not at such a generous level. According to the foundation's website, Walton gave the Alliance $200,000 in 2012.

The Alliance advocates policies that allow the use of tax dollars to pay private school tuition for children from low-income families. The organization reported that about 300,000 K-12 students across the country participate in voucher programs and that with the help of Walton funding, it hopes to double that number. According to the Post, the Alliance for School Choice plans to use the gift from Walton to "aggressively" market private school vouchers to low-income families. In addition to its marketing and lobbying efforts, the organization plans to help communities implement new voucher programs.

The newspaper reported that the Alliance promotes voucher programs in the nation's capital, as well as Ohio, Georgia, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, and Wisconsin. With a larger budget, courtesy of Walton, the alliance may well expand its pro-voucher advocacy to other states.