Wisconsin's Selling of School Choice, Walmart Family Heirs and Others Changing Education

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Public schools in Wisconsin will have to make do with $800 million less from the state over the next two years, under the budget passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature. But state spending on programs that provide public dollars to private schools will see a net increase of nearly $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 2009-2010 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, a horse lover and arts patron who lives in Millsap, Texas, gave a total of $16,100 during this cycle to these candidates, the data show. In fact, six of the top 15 individual contributors to last fall?s successful state legislative candidates were Walton family members.

Other members of the Walton clan contributing to Wisconsin candidates include Alice?s brother and sister-in-law Jim and Lynne Walton, sister-in-law Christy Walton, niece Carrie Penner and her husband Greg Penner.??

Collectively, these six individuals have given at least $103,450 to Wisconsin candidates since mid-2008, state records show. Walmart?s political action committee gave another $9,750 to successful legislative candidates in the 2010 election cycle, according to MapLight.??

But the Waltons? contribution to the state?s choice program -- which allocates tax dollars to private schools, most religiously affiliated -- goes well beyond campaign contributions. The Walton Family Foundation is a major funder of School Choice Wisconsin, the state?s leading voucher advocate, and other state and national groups that play a role in school choice efforts in Wisconsin.??

In just the past several months these efforts have produced major gains, including expanding school choice in Milwaukee and extending it to Racine. A vast and interconnected array of choice proponents, many from out of state, is changing the face of education in Wisconsin.

???The new 800-pound gorilla ? actually it's more of a 1,200-pound gorilla ? is the tax-funded-voucher groups,? says state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. ?They?ve become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state.?

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