White Billionaires Cannot Buy the Charter School Debate

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Betsy DeVos is not woke.

Bill Gates has not been to the mountaintop.

Nor is the Walton Family Foundation concerned with promoting civil rights.

So when white billionaires pour cash to charter school lobbying groups – as the Walton’s did Thursday for charter school protestors at an Elizabeth Warren rally – it isn’t exactly convincing.

Speaking at the historically black college Clark Atlanta University, Warren, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, was interrupted by audience members chanting charter school slogans.



She eventually met with the protestors after the rally.



Strangely enough, Warren hasn’t suggested any policy position that would adversely affect the charter schools from which the protestors hail.



Along with Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Warren has a progressive charter school platform calling for increased transparency and an end to federal funding of charters, which are paid for with tax dollars but privately run.



The Intercept journalist Rachel Cohen noted:



“Frankly suggesting that stronger transparency standards for publicly-funded charter schools would ‘limit parental choice’ is an incoherent talking point that really should not be taken seriously. Increased transparency only ‘limits choice’ if the charter schools themselves refuse to accept higher transparency standards.”



Intercept journalist Ryan Grim, who was present at the rally, noted that the group of protestors was funded by the Waltons.



The group was from Memphis Lift Parent Institute which bused in people from around the country. It was supported by a GoFundMe page showing numerous $1,000 donations from anonymous sources.



Published financial reports clearly show the Waltons backing Memphis Lift to the tune of $1.5 million since 2015. And since then, their 2017 filing shows $375,200 more, with a mere $200 coming from other public contributions. That’s pretty close to 100%. The Walton’s Website makes the connection even more undeniable.



Support also came from Nashville education consulting firm Strategy Redefined, the Tennessee’s chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and Chris Barbic, the original head of Tennessee’s disastrous Achievement School District.



That is not grassroots.



That is astroturf.



Both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a moratorium on new charter schools primarily because of how they increase school segregation and adversely affect children of color.



These are huge national organizations making decisions based on democratic input of their members. They are not solely representative of the tiny fraction of parents (6%) who send their kids to charter schools nationwide, nor are they funded primarily by corporations and billionaire investors who, in turn, make a profit off of the school privatization industry.



While it’s true that you’ll find polls showing strong support for charters among people of color, the overwhelming majority of these polls are conducted by pro-charter groups. They’re like the American Apple Foundation finding high support for U.S. apples – little more than paid advertising.



However, even a poll conducted by charter school lobbying organization Democrats for Education Reform found that both black and white respondents support a moratorium on new charter schools.



Billionaires like DeVos, Bill Gates and the Waltons have spent incredible amounts of money to convince the public that school privatization is grassroots, but we have the receipts.



The Walton foundation has promised $1 billion since 2018 to expanding charter schools.



Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, describes the Walton foundation as hiding behind black faces to obscure who’s really in charge – they’re exploiting black people for a “white agenda.”



“It’s a sad thing that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities,” Perry said.



The Walton Foundation gave $9 million to the United Negro College Fund for a scholarship to the organization’s fellowship program for students interested in education reform. They are literally paying to indoctrinate black people to the ideology that school privatization is in their best interests.



This also includes $530,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation to sponsor an affiliated education policy advocacy and campaign training workshop and an additional $170,000 to sponsor events.

Walton money has also gone to two other pro-charter groups – nearly $2 million to the 100 Black Men of America campaign and $7.3 million to the National Urban League.



And this is just the tip of the iceberg.



Charter schools are not required to provide the same basic services that authentic public schools must.



To suggest that providing fewer services to black and brown children is somehow in their best interest should insult Americans of every race.



Black children – just like white children – deserve schools run by elected school boards.



Black children – just like white children – deserve schools that accept all comers, not institutions that cherry pick which kids to enroll and which to counsel out to other institutions.



Black children – just like white children – deserve schools that will provide them with robust services and don’t try to cut programs and pocket the savings as profit.



None of this is controversial.



It is common sense.



The problem is that after decades of misinformation, people are becoming ever more aware of how charter schools are scamming the public in general and black communities in particular.



The billionaires funding this industry are using their vast wealth to try and buy the debate.



It is up to every thinking American to look at the facts and understand the extent to which we are being bamboozled by white elites at the expense of our black and brown brothers and sisters.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!


17 thoughts on “White Billionaires Cannot Buy the Charter School Debate

  1. Have charter schools benefited the African-American underprivileged students? With this question, Steven Singer brings attention to one of the most unconstrained influential and formidable power that white billionaires have in public education matters: the charter school movement. From the beginning of the NCLB era, charter schools have been receiving federal government’s and billionaires’ support and funding. If charter schools were the corporate reformers’ warranted better“ option” for people of color or minorities, these same minorities, the same charter school associations, politicians, academics, and all educational stakeholders would be granting educational, social, and economic benefits after almost three decades of this experiment. Undeniably, the evidence and the record indicate otherwise.
    Arguably, in this particular moment, the failure to validate charter schools as a legitimate alternative to public schools force white billionaires to spend millions on lobbying and mobilizing astroturf groups in order to influence presidential candidates. But, the unavoidable e question is why then? If the white billionaires’ argument of charter schools offering a better alternative to public schools has not been validated by their results, then every stakeholder must question why these billionaires support them so resolutely.
    I appreciate Steven Singer’s reasonable warning about the billionaires’ fabricated intention of helping underprivileged African-American students. Will public schools stakeholders agree the narrative and the reality show a disturbing incongruence? And will anyone does something to stop billionaires from influencing presidential candidates and political figures on educational policies? We will see.


  2. I don’t think we have many thinking people who are able to sort fiction from fact in order to get to the truth. Over the years, there has been so much dirt/dust swept under the rug, that it will take a crew of millions to get to the floor underneath. Since the early 90’s, we haven’t really had to think…..all we have had to do is turn on the 24 hr news cycle or log into our social media accounts to get the “truth” that “they” want us to hear and believe. No thinking involved!! Trust us…..and keep buying at WalMart and using your massive collection of credit cards.


    • I hear you, Lisa. It certainly feels this way sometimes when you see all the craziness going on in our country. But I do see signs for hope. The tide has turned in many ways including against school privatization. The political platforms of both Warren and Sanders prove it. The billionaires are trying to get the pendulum to swing back in their direction again. What happens next is really up to all of us. Hence my attempts to sound the alarm here. Thanks for commenting.


  3. Steve, do you really think anyone is scamming Sarah Carpenter? Also, please don’t neglect to inform your readers that the Intercept where Rachel Cohen & Ryan Grim work is funded by billionaires at eBay.


    • Peter, someone who makes $ off of X and then pays you to cheerlead X is not what I call grassroots. Sure there’s money behind the media – all media conglomerates. But this is a direct link. It’s like Oscar Meyer paying people to sing the Oscar Meyer hot dog song. Cute but not an authentic manifestation of grassroots anything.

      Oh and one more thing, Peter. I know you don’t want to believe that the great Sarah Carpenter couldn’t possibly be bought off by the Waltons, but we have the receipts. It’s all there in black and white. Her group, Memphis Lift, took $1.5 million from the Waltons up to 2015 and $375,200 more since 2017. They only got $200 from other sources. That is not conjecture. Those are facts. Time to accept reality.


      • Regardless if they were supported by the Walton’s, are you denying mothers their right to fight for great schools for their children, or should we just continue to discount black & brown voices? You always say fight for your schools, that is exactly what they are doing.


      • Spare me your indignation, Peter. As the director of Northwest Passage Charter School in Minnesota, you’re not interested in defending black and brown voices. You’re defending your business model. And what a shock that it’s the same model favored by the Walton Family who are paying no overtime to WalMart employees over the Thanksgiving holiday. These are not people who are about civil rights. They just want to boost their bottom line. These are the folks propping up your educational model. Be careful of the friends you keep.

        Finally, only 6% of all students got to charter schools. That’s not a majority – not even a majority of black and brown voices. The majority is represented by democratic organizations from that community like NAACP and Black Lives Matter. I am supporting that majority by speaking out against an educational model that exploits black people. You are just carrying water for billionaires.


  4. […] I tried to leave a comment on Nehemiah Frank’s editorial entitled “Diverse Group of Parents Launches National Parents Union to Challenge Educational Injustices” in the Black Wall Street Times, but was unable to do so. I feel that Frank’s editorial about the National Parents Union (NPU) was misleading. I received the press release (the same one that Mr. Frank probably received) about the NPU marching through the streets of New Orleans to celebrate “school choice.” I did a little digging about the NPU and found that it is far from the diverse, grassroots organization that it claims in the press release. The National Parents Union is funded by white billionaires, most notably the Walton Family Foundat…. […]


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