Charter Schools Funding: Walton Family Foundation, 1991

Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society (Duke)



Case Study Sector


The Walton Family Foundation, funded from the fortune of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton in the late 1980s, first became involved in the field of education in the early 1990s. John Walton, family trustee and son of Sam Walton, felt strongly that education, and K–12 education in particular, was the field in which the foundation could wield the strongest leverage. John Walton also became frustrated, however, with the Foundation’s early grants in the field of education; as promising as the educational programs chosen for funding may have been, the programs yielded only transitory impact. Walton attributed this to the lack of strong entrepreneurial leadership at the grantee organizations. Backing away from funding specific programs, he led the Foundation to undertake a study of education to understand more clearly how it could achieve impact in the field. After the study, the Foundation concluded that power in the field of education, through financial control, should be transferred from political leaders to parents in the form of school choice and the ability to direct financial resources accordingly.
In what the Foundation calls “Phase 1” of its support for charter schools, the strategy was to get a core set of charter schools up and running, both to show that they could work in practice and to have a set of data to study for improvement and scalability. In “Phase 2,” the Foundation has aimed to build the support capacity of statewide charter school support organizations to stem the tide of opposition against the charter school movement.



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