Arkansas is one of the nation’s poorer states, with a per capita GDP exceeding only West Virginia and Mississippi in 2015. Arkansas is also home turf to the nation’s wealthiest family, headquarters for its family foundation, and a focal point for its giving. For reasons political and economic, the Waltons aren’t loved by all, but let it not be said that they’ve forgotten where they came from.
The Walton Family Foundation’s Arkansas grantmaking shows no sign of letting up. In 2015, the foundation dedicated over $35 million to “Home Region” grants, and that doesn’t include the millions that flow to Arkansas in funds earmarked for education and special projects. Grants go to dozens of nonprofits annually, working across a wide range of issues.
And there’s more good news for potential Arkansas grantees: the foundation’s 2020 Home Region Plan anticipates a total of $302 million in local grants from 2014 through the end of the decade.
Within this bigger picture, the foundation’s recent $2 million grant to Economics Arkansas, a nonprofit dedicated to financial literacy, makes sense. It also goes hand-in-hand with the foundation’s focus on education, a funding prerogative that has immensely benefited the charter school movement nationwide.
Funding financial literacy also dovetails with giving by the Walmart Foundation, an entirely separate entity that also has eye on nurturing the practical skills that lower income people—and especially women—need to succeed. (We'll leave our usual caveat on Walmart's low wages for another day.)
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For its part, Economics Arkansas is an intriguing nonprofit. Founded in 1962 to send local teachers to economics training workshops, it bore witness to the gradual decline of home economics. And now, as many educators once again acknowledge the benefits of practical economics curricula, Economics Arkansas is there to pick up the slack. It never went away.
Economics Arkansas is also quite small. As detailed in its 2014-2015 annual report, the only funder to top $30,000 was the Arkansas Department of Education. That's a difference of two orders of magnitude. While it’s almost nothing to the Waltons, $2 million is a prodigious sum for any nonprofit, and for one like Economics Arkansas it must really make a difference.
And it’s not just a simple $2 million grant. The Waltons’ gift is step one in a longer-term objective: endowing the Economics Arkansas Foundation with $8 million to execute a new strategic plan and grow the organization’s impact. Executive Director Sue Owens commented that from serving 1,000 PreK-12 teachers in 2004, they're now up to 2,000. And there are over 30,000 teachers in the state.
This relatively modest outlay could do a lot of good for low and medium-income kids as they grow up.