When I became interested in the school choice debate a year ago I was struck by the line-up of wealthy individuals, foundations, corporations, non-profits (secular and religious), think-tanks, even the Federal Reserve, who have jumped on this band wagon. This nationally networked coalition promotes education reforms that I call "EBTPS" - Everything But Traditional Public Schools (TPS). Reforms the coalition promotes, to be paid by your tax dollars, include; charter schools, vouchers, tax credits for scholarships to private (religious and secular) schools, virtual schools and homeschooling - in that order. Georgia currently offers all of the above except for vouchers to private schools - so far. This coalition has no use for locally elected school boards unless perhaps they have sponsored the board member; they will tell you that "the money should follow the child" preferably to a charter school or a private school via vouchers or tax credits.
There are so many players in this game - I want to do them all justice - so I will have to break it down. This blog will focus on one of the head honchos - Alice Walton, and the Walton Family Foundation (WFF)http://bit.ly/TBbFUc.
Alice Walton is one of Sam and Helen's four children - heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune. Her estimated net worth according to Forbes (March 2012) is $23.3 billion. She is on the board of directors of the WFF. The Foundation's mission statement from their website reads; "Our core strategy is to infuse competitive pressure into the American K-12 public education system by increasing the quality and quantity of school choices available to parents, especially in low income communities."
Who would fault the WFF's goal of increasing quality school choices available to the parents of low income students? Certainly not this author. The WFF gave $25.5 M to the KIPP Foundation in 2011. This donation will allow KIPP to expand from 5 to 8 public charter schools in Atlanta by 2016 and expand schools in each of the WFF's strategic investment sites across the country. By most accounts KIPP has been an effective community partner and has a successful charter model for boosting achievement and graduation rates for "at-risk" students.
But Alice's and the WFF's financial backing goes far beyond helping those in low income communities. In 2011, the WFF gave out $159 million to non-profits who either "shape public policy" or to specific charter schools, charter authorizers, or public school systems who have agreed to promote charters I would imagine. In 2011 the WFF gave to "shapers" in Georgia that we know of based on their grant list; The Georgia Charter Schools Association - $700K, Georgia Family Education and Research Council, Inc. - $350K. The WFF gave to other out-of-state "shapers" who are backing HR 1162; Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Inc.,- $565K, Americans for Prosperity - $250K, StudentsFirst (Michelle Rhee) - $1M, and the BAEO, Black Alliance for Educational Options - $796K.
In addition to the WFF support of these 6 out of 14 members of the
Brighter Georgia Education Coalition http://bit.ly/P2BDff, Alice Walton wrote
a personal check for $250K to the HR 1162 Constitutional Amendment Committee,http://1.usa.gov/OgECUz Rep. Lindsey’s group, Families for Better Public Schools (more appropriately – Families for Enhanced Public Schools – “better” isn’t written in HB 797). This one check was 51% of the take up to the reporting deadline of August 30st – the opposition collected one fifth of that amount. We won’t know if Alice is kicking in any more until after Nov. 6. How many voters knew Alice and the WFF were such generous backers of HR 1162 in the first place!
Here’s my problem with Alice and her foundation dumping money into
our state to pass this constitutional amendment. Alice doesn’t live here, she
never did live here, and she most likely never will live in Georgia. She lives
on her horse ranch in Texas. She’s not accountable to any voter in Georgia.
Maybe she’ll write into the blog and answer the following questions;
Have you read HR 1162 or HB 797? Do you know that the words “improve, low-income, drop out, succeed, achievement gap, better, innovate" are NOT mentioned in the legislation? Do you know that TPS have had funding cuts of $5 billion since 2003 and that HR 1162 will most certainly reduce state funding for TPS students even further to pay for an appointed commission’s state chartered schools. Many of these TPS students are low-income – don’t they count Alice? Do you know that Dr. Barge has recommended a "no" vote on this amendment because we already have a mechanism in place to approve a state charter for a petitioner that a local board has denied (among many other reasons).
What is your definition of competition Alice? Here’s the definition from Wikipedia; competition is a contest between groups for territory or resources; it is the opposite of cooperation. What's the end game? Georgia doesn't have a cap on charter schools. Should we set up one charter school for every TPS? Is the competition fair - giving charter schools waivers from state regulations and then comparing the results with TPS (charter schools should be vastly superior but they aren’t). Isn’t that like putting a submarine booster rocket on Lochte, shooting the gun off and seeing if he can beat Michael Phelps in the 200 meter individual medley? Sorry - I didn’t read the mission statement closely enough – you never said FAIR competition. You just said competition.
Most importantly Alice, who gave you the authority to pick winners or losers with your money in Georgia? Can we call you up 10 years from now and ask for a “do-over” if your experiment in competition doesn’t work for public education like it works in retail?
Reason # 5 to Vote “NO” on HR 1162 – don’t let outside money buy your vote to amend the State Constitution of Georgia. You, your kids, and maybe your grandchildren have to live with the consequences, Alice doesn’t.
Pictured is our sweet, patient dog Lola. Why do a blog if you can't feature your family dog, right? She doesn't think this amendment will help kids either.