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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.

Printer friendly version of The Wal-Mart Monster cartoon

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:

  • Walton gives $500,000 a year to the Newark-based Excellent Education for Everyone (“E3”), the state’s pro-voucher organization.
  • In 1999, Walton and the Bradley Foundation put up $3 million to create a voucher front group called the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which now has an active chapter in New Jersey. BAEO also received a $600,000 grant from the Bush Administration to educate parents about their “choice” options under the so-called “No Child Left Behind” act.
  • Walton’s family foundation supports the Greater Educational Opportunities Foundation of Indianapolis, which sponsors regular “fact-finding” trips to Milwaukee, where New Jersey parents and politicians receive carefully scripted tours of the city’s voucher schools.
  • Walton gave $500,000 to former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler for his “private scholarship” program. When Schundler was caught using the money for ads supporting his run for governor in 2001, Walton rescued him, telling reporters that was the intended use of the money.
  • Walton also contributed heavily to the 2002 campaign of then-Newark city councilman – and E3 co-founder – Cory Booker in his unsuccessful bid to become mayor of Newark. The story of Booker’s right-wing links is detailed on The Black Commentator web site, which sees Booker’s campaign as part of a larger effort by conservatives to seize control of urban politics in America.

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.

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