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Walton Family Foundation Invests $159 Million in K-12 Education Reform in 2011

March 7, 2012
Growing demand for high-quality educational options leads to increase in investment and momentous legislative advances in the education reform movement

BENTONVILLE, ARK., March 7, 2012 – Today the Walton Family Foundation announced investments totaling more than $159 million in education reform initiatives for 2011 – the largest single-year investment in education reform. Grants were made to organizations and programs that empower parents, particularly in low-income communities, to choose among quality, publicly funded schools for their children.

Having invested more than $1 billion in education reform, the Walton Family Foundation is the largest donor to initiatives that support parental choice and competition within education. This focused investment strategy is intended to fuel increased achievement in several local public school systems. The foundation believes that when families are empowered with quality choices and information, they can help transform public education in their local community and the nation.

“The Walton Family Foundation supports organizations that operate with a sense of urgency and an unrelenting commitment to raising student achievement, particularly in low-income communities,” said Buddy D. Philpot, Executive Director of the Walton Family Foundation. “In 2011, legislators across the country responded to the demands of millions of parents and expanded access to publicly funded educational options with unprecedented commitment. These bold policy steps reinforce the need and desire for choice from families across the United States. When all parents have the ability to choose quality schools for their children, a competitive dynamic emerges that can inspire the broader public school system to improve, helping transform public education in our nation.”

In 2011, legislators across the country expanded access to public charter schools and publicly financed scholarships for private schools, while simultaneously rethinking the role of parents in their children’s education and the teacher evaluation process. Maine became the 42nd state to allow charter schools and the public charter school movement expanded by 500 schools to enroll more than 2 million students annually. For the first time, more than 200,000 low-income families sent their children to private school with publicly financed scholarships, with lawmakers in 12 states creating, expanding or restoring 17 K-12 scholarship programs. In Texas, Mississippi and California, parents are now able to act collectively to hand over their chronically failing schools to new management, administrators or teachers. In 14 states, teachers can be dismissed based upon poor evaluations, which include significant measures of student performance.

The foundation focuses on 16 investment sites throughout the nation that serve high concentrations of low-income families and don’t offer high-performing schools to all their students. They include Albany, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Harlem, New York, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Newark, New Jersey, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.

In many of the 16 investment sites where there is a high concentration of publicly funded educational options, students enrolled in public charter and private schools with the support of public scholarships are outperforming their peers. In New Orleans, for example, where more than 70 percent of students are enrolled in public charter schools and 1,700 students afford tuition for private schools with the state’s voucher program, only 36 percent of schools in the Recovery School District fail to meet Louisiana’s minimum academic standards. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, this rate was about 60 percent.

The foundation also announced large, multi-year strategic investments in each of its three key initiatives this year:

Shaping Public Policy

California Charter Schools Association - $15 million

The foundation’s investment is expected to allow 100,000 additional children the ability to attend a high-quality public charter school over the next three years.
Creating Quality Schools

KIPP Foundation - $25.5 million

The foundation’s investment will double the number of students who attend KIPP schools over the next five years.
Improving Existing Schools

Teach For America - $49.5 million

The foundation’s investment will allow Teach For America to double the size of its teaching corps over five years.
The foundation looks to a number of metrics to determine progress, including the increasing number of high-quality schools available to low-income parents. Ultimately, student achievement determines success, and the long-term goal is to raise student achievement and close the persistent performance and attainment gap between low-income children and their affluent peers.