How Walton Has Funded a Whole New Education Infrastructure

When you're drawing on the largest family fortune in world, you can do education philanthropy differently. Instead of just improving the education system that exists, you can create a whole parallel universe— complete with new schools, new teacher training academies, new policy experts, and more. 

Which is what the Walton Family Foundation has done. And while we've written a lot about the ins and outs of this funder, we thought it'd be useful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

A Walton press release stated earlier this year that the funder has supported more than 1,500 charter school startups. By its own estimates, Walton dollars have funded one out of every four charter school startups in the United States. Since 1997, Walton has poured more than $335 million into charter school startups. As we previously reported, Walton gave over $160 million in education grants in 2013.

Those startups have largely been in major urban areas, and over time the funding amounts have really piled up. The cities with the largest concentrations of Walton Foundation charter school funding have included:

  • Los Angeles, $35.9 million
  • Chicago, $24.7 million
  • Washington, D.C., $16.3 million
  • New Orleans, $12.4 million
  • Denver, $10.2 million
  • Indianapolis, $9.4 million

But Walton's education giving hasn't stopped with planting new charter schools in these and other cities across the country. It also helps fund the training of teachers to fill those schools' classrooms through its support of Teach For America, which received over $18 million from Walton in 2013 alone. Many charter school teachers are TFA alumni.

Beyond funding new charter schools and training the teachers in them, Walton has supported a virtual industry dedicated to education reform that is consistent with the funder's ideological views, which emphasize school choice and market-based alternatives to the public education status quo.

Over the years, it's made huge investments in research, policy advocacy, and educator training programs. Walton supports pro-reform education research by conservative-leaning think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, as well as policy advocacy by the pro-voucher Alliance for School Choice. It also supports the organization Parent Revolution, which advocates for "parent trigger" laws under which parents can take over failing public schools, transforming them into charter schools.

There is plenty of room for debate over the impact of Walton's presence in education funding. What cannot be denied is that the groups that share Walton's education agenda have had a very powerful friend.