Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Message for Waltons: Charter schools won't fix poverty

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 9:49 AM

click to enlarge wwaltons.jpg
Here's another important article in American Prospect for Arkansas legislators if fact rather than faith or influence peddling was more important to them.

It's about the Walton Family Foundation's high-dollar push to charterize public education. Arkansas is a prime example of the lack of accountability that comes with the anything-but-conventional-public-schools agenda. Failing schools and schools that don't deliver on their charters are continually allowed to exist and grow, while the state Board of Education pushes to take over public schools robbed of better students by charter schools and constantly bashed by paid operatives of the Waltons.

Writes American Prospect on a new report on the Walton effort:

... the Walton Family Foundation—which has kick-started about one in four charters around the country—“relentlessly presses for rapid growth of privatized education options” and has opposed serious efforts to regulate and monitor fraud and abuse. While the foundation supports rapidly scaling up charter networks that have produced promising results, the AFT and In the Public Interest cite a 2013 Moody’s Investment Services report which found that dramatically expanding charter schools in poor urban areas weakens the ability of traditional schools to serve their students, forcing them to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and cut programs to make ends meet.

A month earlier, Philamplify, an initiative of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), published its own report on the Walton Family Foundation’s impact, and found that although they have achieved meaningful results through their environmental philanthropy, “an overreliance on specific market-based vehicles” hinders their ability to create “sustainable and equitable” improvements in education. Philamplify also criticized the Walton Family Foundation for “insulating itself among like-minded peers rather than connecting with the broader field.”

The Waltons came within a hair of passing legislation backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015 to privatize the Little Rock School District. The results almost certainly would have been what the studies describe. An explosion of charter schools would have created charter school winners, with concentrated skimming of better students, generally from higher income homes; charter losers along the lines of several that have operated in Arkansas for years, and a derelict public school system robbed of involved parents, better students to serve as role models and millions in tax dollars.

Interesting, too, is the article's main theme — that money, not education, is the better ingredient to break the cycle of poverty.

This discussion is sure to continue over the coming months, but what was particularly striking was something in the Walton Family Foundation’s response to the Philamplify report—a statement that has been reiterated by the foundation many times over the past several years. Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 program director, said, “Education is the set of work we can support that will most directly end the cycle of poverty and change the trajectory of young people’s lives.”

The notion that education is needed to break the cycle of poverty is a popular mantra of the education reform movement. The problem is, it is simply not true at all. The most direct way to break the cycle of poverty is actually to give poor people more money, something that high-quality educations, even college degrees, do not in any way guarantee. So when it comes to the question of redistribution—an integral component to any comprehensive anti-poverty program—the political work of the Walton family deserves far greater scrutiny.

The articles detail the millions the Waltons spend to elect their kind of candidates — generally Republican — and to lobby at the state and national level. Against organized labor, particularly, as well as against progressive tax laws that might diminish the family's vast fortune. Current breaks they enjoy are worth an estimated $7.8 billion a year to the family members, the article says..

The Walton Family Foundation talks a lot about creating high-quality schools. If Walmart, with its billions of dollars in profits, created high-quality jobs with living wages and benefits, children would be far less likely to grow up in poverty and would perform far better in school. Relatedly, if the Waltons backed candidates who supported a more equitable distribution of wealth and stronger social-welfare policies, then children would be far less likely to grow up in poverty, and perform far better in school. It’s certainly true that every child deserves a high-quality education. How to get there, however, is not rocket science.

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