The Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation announced Wednesday that it was donating $20 million to a nonprofit that recruits talented college graduates to teach in public schools for two years. The largest number of instructors, more than 700, is slated for Los Angeles.
The gift is a continuation of support that has totaled more than $100 million to New York City-based Teach for America over its 24 years. Walton’s cumulative contribution to the group in Los Angeles is more than $10 million, the foundation said.
“Teach for America will be able to bring effective teachers into some of the most under-resourced classrooms in the country while simultaneously working to develop more of our talented corps members as long-term champions of educational equity and excellence,” Matt Kramer, co-chief executive of Teach for America, said in a statement.
Support from the Walton foundation has attracted notice because it is associated with funding and advocacy for “school choice” efforts across the country. These include independently operated, public charter schools. The foundation also supports government-funded vouchers to subsidize the tuition of low-income students at private schools.
The organization is funded by members of the family that founded Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has opposed unionization in its operations. Most charters are nonunion.
For its part, Teach for America has always cast itself as politically neutral, and notes that its teachers join unions when they work in districts with collective bargaining agreements.
The group lobbies both the federal and state governments to allow its teachers to enter schools as rated “highly qualified” under the law. That designation is important because schools with lower numbers of highly qualified instructors face possible sanctions.
The Walton foundation said the essence of its support for Teach for America has to do with the group’s twin core missions: to provide effective teachers where they are needed for low-income students and to develop alumni who become leaders who care about education, whether they remain in school systems or enter other fields.
“Teach for America is doing a great job of recruiting highly talented individuals into education,” said Ed Kirby, deputy director of K-12 education reform for the foundation.
In the L.A. area, 42 Teach for America alumni have risen to the position of principal or higher in a school district; 60 have done so in local charter schools.
In L.A. this year, 94% of the incoming corps found jobs in charters, which have been expanding in number. It’s “a special value that TFA has embraced placement in charter schools,” Kirby said. Many alums, he noted, become charter school leaders: “It’s amazing when you get out into the charter school market to see the degree to which TFA alums populate the leadership throughout.”