Walton Family Foundation gave nearly $12 million to Southland schools last year

The foundation of the late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton donated nearly $12 million to Southern California charter schools and reform-minded education outfits last year, as part of a $150-million investment in education nationwide, the organization announced Tuesday.

The Walton Family Foundation gave donations to more than 30 Los Angeles-area charter schools, as well as to eight organizations that are attempting to shape public policy in ways that will create more choices for students.

Most of the schools received more than $200,000 each. The California Charter Schools Assn. received $3.9 million, and more than $2 million will go to Teach for America in Southern California, out of the almost $17 million given overall to the program, which is aimed at boosting student achievement by placing teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

The donations were the latest in a longtime push by the foundation, based in Bentonville, Ark., to create more education choices for low-income families, particularly in large urban environments such as Los Angeles. The foundation’s underlying mission is that “students shouldn’t be forced to attend a failing school,” said Jim Blew, Walton’s director of K-12 reform.


Blew said the foundation has focused on Los Angeles since 2007, along with other urban districts where he said the environment is hospitable to choice and reform. The foundation has donated directly to school districts, including the school systems in Washington, D.C., and Denver. The foundation did not donate any money to Los Angeles Unified School District, but Blew said the foundation has had talks recently with the district about future funding.

For a smaller school such as Synergy Academies in South Los Angeles, an injection of $250,000 was quite a boon.

The elementary school, with a budget of about $2 million, grew from 140 students in the 2009 school year to 312 students in the 2010 school year, which required doubling the school’s staff, said Meg Palisoc, Synergy’s chief executive. She co-founded the school seven years ago with her husband, Randy. Both are former L.A. Unified teachers.

The Walton donation will go toward classroom supplies, musical instruments and other materials needed for a rapidly expanding student body, she said.

“It’s sad [that] schools like ours, that are doing great work, aren’t getting the extra funding,” Palisoc said. “The Walton grant is very substantial for us.”

Charters are publicly-funded but independently-run campuses that are mostly non-union and are allowed to bypass some district and state rules and regulations in exchange for boosting student achievement.