The Washington Teachers’ Union recently held a press conference in protest of Wal-Mart and the founding Walton family for their financial support of the privatization of D.C. charter schools and their monetary neglect of the city’s public schools.
The Friday conference at Moten Elementary School in southeast D.C. — held jointly with Making a Change at Walmart, an organization serving as a watchdog against the retail giant — discussed the Walton Family Foundation’s “2020 K-12 Education Strategic Plan,” which is set to administer over $1 billion over the next five years in funding for new charter schools and enhancing their current programs.
“Why is Wal-Mart so interested in education? Because the education fund is the next big war chest and even though they are already controlling 1 percent of the wealth, they can never be rich enough,” said Elizabeth Davis, president of the teachers union. “It is about money and real estate, it is not about children.
“With this conference I hope to enlighten people to the underlying message of Wal-Mart’s campaign and know Wal-Mart’s reputation behind the scenes as being the number 1, largest privatizer of education,” Davis said.
The Walton Foundation has already supported a quarter of the 6,700 charter schools created in the United States, investing $180 million in K-12 education in 2015 and over $1.3 billion in total funding since the foundation’s inception in 1992.
“The reason we are here today is because of one of our many issues which is the Walton’s dumping billions of dollars into charter schools,” said Jessica Levin, communications director of Making Change at Walmart. “This year Wal-Mart is making a claim that they are against teachers spending their own money on school supplies when in fact, they are doing things that undermine this on a day to day basis.”
As the number of charter school systems drastically increase nationwide, the D.C. area faces the greatest impact, with nearly half of all students now attending public charter schools, according to The New York Times.
“Walton has subsidized an entire charter school system in the nation’s capital, helping to fuel enrollment growth so that close to half of all public school students in the city now attend charters,” The Times reported in 2014.
Over the past year, DCPS schools have seen a 1.9 percent increase in enrollment, but not without also witnessing a 3.2 percent hike in charter school enrollment in the 2015-2016 school year, according to The Washington Post.
Aundrea Blair, a volunteer at Savoy Elementary School in Southeast and and member of the school’s LSAT committee, said public school instructors often have to come out of pocket just to cover shortfalls.
“We try to cut corners for extra funding, but usually teachers still end up having to personally put out anywhere between $500 and $600, just to help supplemental costs,” said Blair, a grandmother of a DCPS student. “Last year my husband and I were buying copy paper, pencils, pens, dry-eraser markers, you name it. Many of the classrooms lack school aides for all of the disabled students and it is not fair that Wal-Mart is dumping all of this money into charter schools. They want to privatize the school system and that to me is totally wrong.”
With charter school systems stampeding into the states — accounting for almost half of D.C.’s educational system — residents may have to begin to analyze and prioritize a dual school system and the public charter schools.
“Although charter schools are taking public dollars from the public education fund, their records and accounts are not accountable to the public,” Davis said. “Any organization that takes public funding should be available to the public, open and transparent.”