April 23, 2017

I don't know about you, but whenever I realize that I absolutely have to go to Walmart, which is literally almost never, I have to suppress the urge to puke a bit. I cannot stand to go there. Never in my 45 years have I been to a Walmart that is not absolutely filthy, where the employees don't look like they would rather be getting dental surgery or where there exists any small measure of decent customer service. I'm aware that this is a personal observation. After all, it's not as if I have toured the U.S. visiting all of these stores. And I'm also aware that they make money for a reason, that many Americans like them if not love them.

It seems almost nothing can change these Walmart lovers' minds. Do you recall the 2014 study that found the largest private employer in the country was actually costing Americans over $6.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies? According to the report, Walmart also received $1 billion in tax breaks annually and $70 million in state and local subsidies. Employees were prevented from working full time so that the company could save on health care and other employee benefits packages. Many were on food stamps as well as other assistance. All the while, The Walton family was raking in billions upon billions upon billions. Yet, the Walmart devotees never strayed. Yes it was all very sad, but who could say no to the low, low prices of Doritos, rifles and cold medicine?

The Walmartification of Education

The Walton family now owns only 50% of Walmart stores. Sadly, that means they only make billions upon billions having lost the last chunk of billions. But never fear, for they have invested wisely. So much so that they have been able to give over $1.3 billion, by their own estimates, to K-12 education during the last two decades through their Walton Family Fund.

But it's not just any education that the Waltons love, it's for-profit education. The Waltons love charters so much, they even sit on many pro-charter, pro-school choice organizations' boards. John Walton, Walmart's founder, co-founded the Children's Scholarship Fund and the Alliance for School Choice. His granddaughter, Carrie Walton Penner, is on the board of the KIPP Foundation, the Alliance for School Choice and the California Charter School Association. Carrie's husband, Greg Penner, is a member of the National Teach for America board and the director of the Charter Growth Fund. Christy Walton co-chairs the Children's Scholarship Fund, and Annie Walton Proietti works with KIPP in Denver, Colorado.

Through their foundation, the Waltons have given to one in four start-ups nationally. But they don't just give to charter schools and organizations that support charter schools, they also donate to researchers so that studies of charter schools and how they perform can be conducted. These studies, which miraculously wind up supporting the Waltons' stance on privatizing education, are then featured on their website as proof that charter schools are performing better than public schools. These studies are also used by Betsy DeVos in her endless pursuit to destroy the American public school system.

As you might have guessed, the Walton family, like the DeVos family, is big on political donations. Their modus operandi is to stuff Republican state legislators' pockets with cash so that they can then outspend and take over the state along with the Republican governors they've also funded. Those Republicans then cut the public school funding and give some of it to private schools.

Another method of closing public schools used by the Waltons is to fund charters in one area and flood the market. In Minnesota, the Walton Family Foundation helped start almost half the charters in Minneapolis and have given to 62% of all the city's charters. Such a high concentration of charter schools in one area takes more and more taxpayer money, choking the life out of public schools.

Just when public school supporters thought it couldn't get much worse, the foundation has announced they plan to spend another $1 billion by 2020 on privatizing education. Currently they have funded charter schools and voucher programs in California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Washington D.C.

Stopping the Waltons

Even though independent studies have shown over and over again that a large number of charter schools are not performing as well or better than their public counterparts because they are infested with corruption and no regulations or oversight, pro-charter school advocates like the Waltons and DeVos now claim that the main concern should be parental choice when it comes to education. This is laughable since it was these same advocates that used school and student performance to justify charter schools in the first place.

Education is not about squeezing the last dime out of our teachers by cutting their hours and benefits like the charters funded by the Waltons are doing. Charter schools on average pay their staff 10-15% less than public schools. It's not like teachers were making that much in the first place. Teachers are paid less because charter schools create a middleman with management companies, and they make sure their pay is very high. Some CEOs are reportedly taking home hundreds of thousands of dollars, while teachers are forced to work evening and weekend jobs to make ends meet just like Walmart employees must do.

I don't want our schools to be filthy. I don't want our teachers looking like they'd rather be having dental surgery when they are supposed to be teaching our kids. Our kids deserve the best we can give them. The thought of our schools being run the Walmart way, of running on their business model makes me sick as it should you too. This can't just be my personal opinion. If parents knew the truth about who was behind the their local charter schools, I don't believe they would love it like they do Walmart.

If you agree, please contact your school board and local and state representatives. Tell them you will not vote for anyone willing to give your taxpayer funds to create the Department of Walmart Education. Support teachers' unions, and then choose to send your kids to public schools. Charters, like Walmart stores, cannot stay open if they don't have customers.

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