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began publication 20 months ago with a warning that the Hard Right was pushing private school vouchers to drive a “wedge” between African Americans and public employees – specifically, teachers unions – and to create a bought-and-paid-for, “alternative” Black political leadership. The two-prong strategy originated in think tanks funded by the Bradley, Olin and Walton Foundations. New Jersey, we reported, was chosen as a launch pad for the rightwing offensive, aimed at undermining Black support for public education.
There’s a stranger in our house, and his name is John Walton.
For several years this Arkansas billionaire (and heir to the Wal-Mart fortune) has been throwing his money around in New Jersey, seeking to influence public policy and state politics.
His shadowy presence is tangible proof that New Jersey is now the front line of a national struggle for the future of public education – and for political control of urban America – by conservative forces.
Walton also seeks what I would call the “Wal-Martization” of public education, through privatization for maximum profit.
For years, Walton has been an active supporter of the national voucher movement, spending millions on voucher initiatives and pro-voucher organizations. He is intimately allied with the ultra-right Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee, which used its political and economic clout in that city to launch the nation’s first publicly funded voucher program in 1990. Bradley is also a major funding source for the national voucher effort.
It’s important to “follow the money,” as then-Attorney General John Mitchell advised the Watergate investigators, because Walton’s money is now at the center of voucher politics in New Jersey:
When Walton launched the Children’s Scholarship Fund in 1999 – giving $160 million in private vouchers to urban students – he claimed his goals were simply altruistic. But an Aug. 31, 1999 Wall Street Journal article reported that Walton “yesterday announced a parallel initiative to focus on the creation of schools to serve the burgeoning choice market.” For Walton – as for Wal-Mart – it’s about market domination. Can “Wal-Mart academies” be far behind?
I’ve been alarmed by the stream of disclosures about Wal-Mart’s abuses of workers and its flaunting of labor laws, so I’m naturally concerned about Walton’s vision for the future of education.
It’s time to recognize this very real threat to privatize our public schools for corporate profit, and send John Walton back to Arkansas.
Edithe A. Fulton is President of the 180,000-member New Jersey Education Association.