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Walton Foundation's Market-Based Ed. Initiatives Miss Mark, Report Says

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The Walton Family Foundation's investments in market-based ideas to improve education—such as charter schools and private school voucher programs—are falling short, according to a new report.

Although the foundation's education initiatives have benefited individual families, those improvements aren't spilling over into systemwide change, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy—a Washington-based philanthropy research and advocacy group.

That limited impact is due largely to the foundation's narrow focus on school choice through charters and vouchers without a broader focus on quality, equity, and community, the report says. (The Walton Family Foundation provides support for coverage of parent-empowerment issues in Education Week. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over its content.)

NCRP goes on to say that one of the best examples for the Walton Family Foundation to follow to improve its education philanthropy efforts is—itself, and, in particular, the foundation's work in environmental issues.

The foundation's market-based efforts in marine and freshwater conservation have been largely successful and have "achieved powerful and lasting results through its environmental portfolio, leveraging the power of markets as a key strategic element," the report says.

That's because the Walton Family Foundation's environmental strategy is much more flexible and adaptable to different communities, while its approach to education is based on the same school choice mechanisms (charters and vouchers) no matter where they're being implemented, the report's authors argue.

Furthermore, the foundation engages lots of different stakeholders and marginalized groups to help support its marine and water conservation efforts—not so in education.

The report also points to a lack of diverse perspectives among the foundation's leadership as limiting the impact of its education efforts. The report says the foundation's executive team is mostly male and whilte, while its governing board is made up of Walton family members who are all white and among some of the wealthiest people in the world.

"By definition, they have little in common with the communities they most aim to support through grantmaking," the report says. 

Run by nearly 20 descendants of Sam Walton—the founder of Walmart, the world's biggest retailer—the foundation has invested over $1 billion in advancing school choice to date, and it spent $200 million on grants for its education efforts in 2014, the report says.

Diversity is actually a theme among NCRP's recommendations for the Walton Family Foundation education initiatives: The group urges the foundation to diversify its board and staff, the local community members it works with, and the programs it invests in.

A spokeswoman for the Walton Family Foundation said that overall, the report presents a learning opportunity for the philanthropy.

"Much of what we do and how we interact with our grantees was affirmed, and we found several areas where we need to expand our work or improve upon current processes," said Daphne Moore in a statement. "In our more than 25 years of grant-making, we've learned that achieving lasting change requires strategic vision, dedicated and talented partners, discipline and patience, and a culture that values learning and seeks continuous improvement."

You can check out the full report here


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