by Max Brantley
A report from Wisconsin on the state of affairs in that Tea Party Republican-controlled state:
The Republican governor and legislator are cutting spending on public schools by $800 million, but increasing the amount sent to private schools by $17 million.
And, for that, these private schools can thank Alice Walton and her family.
Walton, the multi-billionaire heiress to father Sam Walton's Walmart empire, was the largest individual contributor to successful state legislative candidates in the 2009-10 election cycle that brought Republicans to power in Wisconsin, according to data from MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the relationship between money and politics.
Walton gave a total of $16,100 to these candidates, according to data. In fact, six of the top 15 individual contributors to last fall's successful state legislative candidates were Walton family members, including Alice's brother and sister-in-law Jim and Lynne Walton, sister-in-law Christy Walton, and niece Carrie Penner and her husband, Greg Penner.
Collectively, they gave at least $103,450 to Wisconsin candidates since mid-2008, state records show.
This is only the tip of the Walton iceberg, however. Walton money drives a lobby group working for vouchers and charter schools in Wisconsin. It also contributes millions to a "vast and interconnected array" of organizations working on the same goals. The Walton Family Foundation has devoted $157 million to pushing "school choice" — which generally means anything but conventional public schools, particularly those represented by teacher unions.
Wisconsin is a key battleground because it has the most advanced voucher programs. But it's only Arkansas written large. You can buy the Arkansas legislature for much less, as the Walton-financed lobby proved in the last session with its successful advocacy of a charter school expansion bill. A paltry few thousand got the job done in the Arkansas House and Senate. The Waltons, of course, purchased the University of Arkansas some years ago for this effort and, in addition to supporting their work in Arkansas, the Walton-financed "school reform" arm is also helping the cause in Wisconsin.
The Walton Family Foundation also gave at least $600,000 last year to the University of Arkansas' School Choice Demonstration Project, which is conducting a multi-year assessment of Milwaukee's school choice program.
In March the Arkansas project released a report of Milwaukee's parental choice program that others have criticized as overly rosy. But the report found there was no significant difference in the performance of select choice students and similar Milwaukee public school students in the 2009-10 school year. That finding was affirmed by a report released in August by Wisconsin's nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau.
I would say, watch out, this could happen to YOU. But it already has. One example: A Walton employee, Naccaman Williams, recently cycled off the state Board of Education to be replaced by a charter school advocate, Joe Black, whose salary is paid by a grant from the Walton Foundation.
ALSO: Just last week, the misleadingly named Arkansas Public School Resource Center and the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (both Walton-financed tools to divert students and resources away from the Little Rock School District) weighed in against the Little Rock District's fight for the state to stop promoting segregation with its poor supervision of the establishment of open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. (ASIDE TO LUKE GORDY'S SNEERING REMARK IN NEWS RELEASE: Charters will compete the same way public schools do when they are required to keep all students they receive no matter how poorly they perform or how resistant they and parents are to meeting charter school rules. Get back to me when a charter operation takes over a tough LR school and manages the students it's given, something charter operators all over the country have refused to do — for obvious reasons.)