It’s no secret that the Walton Family Foundation is a major donor to charter schools. In 2013, it donated more than $70 million to these special public schools and charter management organizations across the country. A good example of the Walton’s largesse is The Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, which is housed in a building across the street from the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. Having received $250,000 from Walton in 2011, the school “used the money to buy computers for students, as well as chemistry lab equipment and recording gear for the school’s media studio.” The New York Times writes:
All of the school’s students qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced price lunches. According to Marco Clark, the founder and head of the school, one in five students have special needs and one in 10 have been involved with the criminal justice system. … Several students noted that they had come from schools in which they either did not feel safe or were not learning much. Dr. Clark acknowledged that the school was still working to raise test scores, and had added extra math and reading classes. “Those who want to criticize any philanthropy group for giving money to kids to change their futures,” said Dr. Clark, “there’s something wrong with them.” (Emphasis added.)
Really. Just who would criticize these philanthropists for helping better the lives of thousands of kids across the country? Teacher union leaders, that’s who.
Here’s National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel’s loopy comment on the Walton’s generosity: “Any foundation that invests the money has to ask themselves, is their money impacting the system as a whole?” What in Hades does this mean? If the Waltons can’t help every school in the country, they shouldn’t help any?
But the award for effrontery has to go to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. In a hair-curling statement, she declared, “What they’re doing in terms of education is they’re trying to create an alternative system and destabilize what has been the anchor of American democracy.”
Pot Calling the Kettle
Hitting a bulls-eye, longtime education reform warrior Whitney Tilson fired back: “Your union, Randi, has been a major contributor to the rise and entrenchment of an ineffective, unjust system that, rather than anchoring American democracy, is destabilizing it. It’s a system that provides a mediocre education to the middle 60% of students and a catastrophic failure to the bottom 20% – almost entirely poor, minority students – the ones who most need great schools and teachers to escape the circumstances into which they were born, yet we instead stick them with the worst.”
Maybe Weingarten was just cranky. Her ridiculous comment came on the heels of a lawsuit that AFT’s New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, lost earlier in April. A judge tossed out AFT’s suit attempting to block 13 charter schools from opening in New York City.
Ironically, as Weingarten wages war on charter schools (and every other kind of school choice that would benefit kids and parents), she managed to pick up the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, “for her lifelong commitment to improving America’s education system.” And who might bestow this late April Fool’s joke of an award on a teacher union boss? Answer: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is comprised of labor unions and other far-left organizations. (Lavishing this honor on Weingarten is the equivalent of the sugar lobby granting a nutritious food award to Cool Whip.)
Unions Seek to Block Freedom
Perhaps the late Milton Friedman, father of school choice, said it best. Putting things into perspective, he wrote in 2005 that the deterioration of schooling can be traced to 1965, which was when “the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union. Concern about the quality of education led to the establishment of the National Commission of Excellence in Education, whose final report, ‘A Nation at Risk,’ was published in 1983. It used the following quote from Paul Copperman to dramatize its own conclusion:
“‘Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.’… Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.”
So the war continues. In our bizarre newspeak world, the leader of a labor union who tries to force kids to stay in their failing public schools gets a “human and civil rights” award and the Walton Foundation, which gives millions to help free those kids, is vilified. 2014 is the new 1984.