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2011 Was Major Investment Year for Walton Family Foundation

The Bentonville, Ark.-based Walton Family Foundation invested more than $159 million in initiatives that support competition in education, marking its largest single-year commitment to education initiatives.

The Walton Family Foundation distinguishes itself from other large education-minded philanthropies, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the Broad Foundation, by its focus on grants that encourage public and private school choice, according to Daphne Moore, a spokesman for the foundation. The organization is one of the biggest contributors to such initiatives, Moore said.

Walton Foundation money went in 2011 to organizations such as the Charter School Growth Fund, which received almost $23 million to help high-performing charter schools expand. Teach For America, which recruits college graduates to serve for two years to work as teachers in low-income communities, received about $12.5 million. The New York-based Local Initiatives Support Corporation, which, among various other projects, helps charter schools find facilities, received the third largest grant in 2011, at about $6.8 million.

One grantee, San Francisco-based GreatSchools Inc., manages a widely viewed website that provides a space for parents and students to rate their own schools. GreatSchools received about $4.8 million last year, which has allowed it to provide printed information on schools to communities such as Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis, said Bill Jackson, the company's chief executive officer. "It's allowed us to improve the quality and sophistication of our ratings," he said.

A full list of the 2011 grantees can be found here. It includes Editorial Projects in Education, the publisher of Education Week, which receives funding for coverage of parent-empowerment issues.

Moore said the foundation believes that spurring competitive options for education improves all schools in a community—a philosophy that has drawn criticism in the education world. To get a sense of the full range of debate over the role of competition in education, see this seven-part Education Week commentary series that explored the future of school reforms, including market-driven changes such as those promoted by the Walton Family Foundation.

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