Walton Family Foundation: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: For the Walton Family Foundation, school choice is key to education reform, and this funder has invested over $1 billion invested in K-12 education already. Major funding goes to teacher recruitment, training, and retention, as well into shaping the education reform policy debate on the local, state, and federal levels. K-12 grants are also awarded through the foundation's Home Region Grants program. 

IP TAKE: The Walton Family Foundation pursues a two-track strategy to reform U.S. K-12 education: first, building an alternative network of charter schools and institutions to support them, and second, pushing for policy changes that pave the way for ed reform and establishing new charter schools (the latter being the only area in which the foundation accepts unsolicited proposals). 

PROFILE: Started by Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton and currently run by their grandchildren, the Walton Family Foundation is rooted in the “belief in the power of individuals to transform their lives” and focuses on large-scale “transformative” grants to realize that possibility.

Within that broad context, the foundation has three main funding areas: K-12 education improvement, thriving environments and prosperous communities, and “giving back” to the family’s “home region” of “northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta." For most grantseekers, Walton's K-12 Education program will be the place to start, but ed organizations in the foundation's "home region" should explore the options available through that program as well.

The Walton Family Foundation is heavily invested in school reform in general, and founding new charter schools in particular. Investment in existing schools, Walton argues, "tend[s] not to produce continuous improvements in student achievement over time" unless they have the open market behind them, nipping at their heels.

In that context, Walton has been a major funder of some of the biggest names in the charter and education reform movements, such as the Charter School Growth Fund, the California Charter Schools Association, the Alliance for School Choice, KIPP, and Building Excellent Schools. 

The organizations listed above have received some of Walton’s largest grants, which have ranged into the millions or even tens of millions of dollars. For charter networks like KIPP, Walton’s funding has often gone to support their expansion, demonstrating the foundation’s commitment to systemic, national change. That said, the foundation has also shown a willingness to work with smaller organizations, individual schools, and statewide charter school associations.

It's important to note that Walton looks at its K-12 funding as an investment, and it wants to see a return on that investment through tangible outcomes and performance measures. If that bottom line does not align with Walton's expectations, it has been known to scrap the whole school and get to work building a new one.

By its own accounting, the foundation has contributed over $1 billion to “K-12 education and supported a quarter of the 6,700 charter schools created in the United States,” and has committed to allocate an additional $1 billion over the course of five years.

This foundation also uses its grantmaking to influence the policy debate over education reform. In one year alone, Walton provided more than $60 million in grants to advocacy groups favoring charter schools, private school vouchers, district open-enrollment programs, and other school choice initiatives.

Although it does have a heavy focus on charter school start-ups and policy reform advocacy, Walton has other K-12 interests as well. Key among these are (as with many ed funders) attracting and retaining a diverse pool of quality teachers as well as fostering reciprocal communication between policymakers and parents “to create a policy environment that supports reform.”

Awards for the most recent year can be viewed (divided by region) on the foundation’s Education Grants page.

Keep in mind that Walton only accepts unsolicited grant proposals to set up new public charter schools in the areas where it operates, which are listed at the bottom of the Public Charter Startup Grants page of its website. If you meet this criteria, the first step is to contact the foundation by completing its online eligibility questionnaire.

Unfortunately, advocacy and teacher training / retention grants are by invitation only.

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