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Waltons put $1B toward school aims

Foundation targets 13 U.S. cities, K-12 by Shea Stewart | January 8, 2016 at 5:55 a.m. | Updated January 8, 2016 at 6:56 a.m.

The Walton Family Foundation said Thursday that it will invest $1 billion over five years to improve educational opportunities in kindergarten through 12th grade across the country.

The funding is part of the foundation's 2015-20 K-12 Education Strategic Plan, which was released Thursday.

The plan aims "to enhance choice, spur innovation and build more of the environmental factors that support choice in cities."

"We think of our work as falling across what we call kind of the three sectors of education: charter, traditional district and private," said Marc Sternberg, the foundation's education program director. "Depending on what state we are in and the policy framework of that state, the mix of our involvement across those sectors will vary.

"It is about growing the impact of high-quality schools. I would imagine well more than 50 -- probably closer to 60, 70, 80 -- percent of that is going to be in growing the charter sector."

The plan states that the foundation "will work to help create an environment that fosters choice and opportunity, and we will empower more low-income, high-needs students to perform at the same level of excellence as students at today's best public schools. We will support innovation in American education. We will test and refine theories through rigorous evaluations."

"What we hope [this funding] means is more families are going to have access to great schools," Sternberg said. "And that more entrepreneurs who have ideas about how to bring change to their communities will have that opportunity in these 13 cities."

Atlanta; Boston; Camden, N.J.; Denver; Houston; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Memphis; New Orleans; New York City; Oakland, Calif.; San Antonio; and Washington, D.C., are the cities where the foundation is supporting systemwide educational improvement under the 2015-20 K-12 Education Strategic Plan.

The foundation also will support state-level policy work in Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

"This is a big announcement and big moment for the foundation, but our roots are deep in many of these cities, and the work ... is even deeper than our roots," Sternberg said. "We're in these communities with partners who have been on the ground a lot longer than we have.

"At the end of the day, this has got to be about [rallying] other partners, though. Partners in government, partners running schools, other partners -- to come together for our common agenda that is much bigger than these dollars and we hope will result in real positive change."

The strategic plan released Thursday doesn't provide a breakdown of how the $1 billion will be channeled to the cities and states over the five years covered by the plan.

Noting that the foundation's theory of change has evolved, the plan said schools of choice alone can't stimulate systematic change and large-scale improvements but that "cities need to create environments that support choice."

"This means creating enrollment platforms, equitable transportation access, fair funding and readily accessible, current information on schools and student performance for families and other stakeholders," the plan said.

The plan notes that "not every charter school fulfills its promise" but that "most charter schools have a positive impact on student learning, and that most urban charter schools, serving students who otherwise would not have access to great schools, are helping students beat the odds and showing the way for other schools to do the same."

The strategic plan includes four initiatives: investing in cities, supporting the high-quality choice movement, innovation, and research and evaluation.

The plan's funding in cities include grants focused on "building and sustaining high-quality schools," "recruiting and training more effective teachers and school leaders," enabling choice, "advocating for favorable policies that support the school choice environment" and offering community support.

The foundation plans on supporting "statewide and national efforts to develop environments receptive to choice, autonomy and innovation" in the coming years.

The foundation also will aid innovation efforts and make research and evaluation grants to learn which efforts at change are working and which are not.

"We cannot and will not stand by while the extraordinary talents of children are squandered and the quintessential American dream of opportunity goes unfulfilled," the plan concludes.

In an article published Thursday on the Walton Family Foundation's website, Sternberg said that since 1997, the foundation has put more than $385 million toward 2,110 new public charter schools -- about a quarter of all charters nationally.

"This past year, we supported more than one in five of the nearly 500 new charters that opened nationally," he wrote. "We are inspired by the ideas and passion of our startup grantees, and we're determined to do all we can to help them succeed."

Kim Anderson, senior director of the Center for Advocacy and Outreach at the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, told The Associated Press that charter schools have mixed results and suggested the foundation could give money to public school districts directly.

"What returns have we all seen as a society?" she asked. "A billion dollars would provide a tremendous amount of services to a number of school districts around the country. Eyeglasses. Hearing exams. It is not as though we have things in the [traditional] public school systems that don't need to be improved."

In Arkansas, the foundation supported six new public charter schools in 2015 with funding of $1.24 million.

Since the foundation was started in 1987, it has backed 62 new schools in Arkansas for a total outlay of $13.97 million.

In November, the foundation announced that it would put $50 million over three years into Teach For America, including $4,757,500 going to the program serving the Arkansas and the Mississippi River Delta region.

The grant, celebrating the program's 25-year anniversary, supports 4,000 new teacher corps members nationwide, including 800 in Arkansas and Mississippi.

The foundation states it has invested more than $1.3 billion in K-12 education since 1992.

According to the foundation's most recent 990 tax form filed with the IRS in November 2014, the foundation -- a 501 (c) (3) private foundation -- received $500,676,062 in contributions in 2013. Revenue for the year totaled $593,729,358.

The foundation disbursed $311,719,212 in contributions in 2013. Total expenses and disbursements for 2013 were $336,040,265.

At the end of 2013, the foundation's total net assets or fund balances was $1,771,517,963.

A Section on 01/08/2016

Print Headline: Waltons put $1B toward school aims

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