Denver schools get $4.2M from Walton Family Foundation

On June 28, 2011, the Walton Family Foundation announced investments totaling more than $157 million in education reform initiatives for 2010 - a $23 million increase over 2009, in which education reform grants totaled $134 million. Grants were made to organizations and programs that empower parents, particularly in low-income communities, to choose among quality, publicly funded schools for their children.

"The Walton Family Foundation operates with a sense of urgency regarding the need to raise student achievement, particularly in low-income communities," said Jim Blew, who leads the foundation's K-12 education reform efforts. "The foundation invests to expand the right of all parents to have access to quality schools, regardless of type. When all parents have the ability to choose quality schools for their children, a competitive dynamic emerges that can inspire the broader school system to improve, helping transform public education in our nation."

Having invested more than $1 billion in education reform, the Walton Family Foundation is the largest donor to initiatives that support parental choice and competition within education. This focused investment strategy is intended to spur increased achievement in several local public school systems. The foundation believes that when families are empowered with quality choices and information, they can help transform public education in their local community and the nation.

The foundation focuses on seven regions throughout the nation that serve high concentrations of low-income families but don't offer high-performing schools to all its students. They include Albany, Denver, East and South Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Newark and Washington, D.C.

The foundation has three key initiatives in its investment strategy. Investments by grant making initiative are as follows:

-- Shaping Public Policy

The foundation's "Shaping Public Policy" initiative builds the capacity of organizations to help enact, strengthen and protect programs that empower parents to choose among high-performing schools. These investments lead to stronger public charter schools and K-12 scholarship programs, as well as greater public access to better information about school and teacher performance.

-- Creating Quality Schools

The "Creating Quality Schools" initiative establishes new, high-quality schools of choice. Through these investments, the foundation supports both proven and promising groups seeking to start or expand schools of choice.

-- Improving Existing Schools

The "Improving Existing Schools" initiative helps reformers respond constructively to increased competition. The foundation focuses on improving teacher effectiveness and addressing weaknesses in the governance, management and instructional performance of traditional, public charter and private schools.

All three initiatives are designed by the foundation to work together and support each other. Shaping public policy is designed to accelerate the creation of new, good schools. In turn, students and families in the new schools can help shape public policy. Similarly, the foundation learns from the practices in new quality schools with the goal of transferring those to existing schools.

The foundation started investing in New Orleans schools following Hurricane Katrina, beginning in 2006 - helping create a school system where all children have choice and 70 percent of public school students attend public charter schools. New Orleans schools have improved student achievement and have closed the proficiency gap between the city and the state by 11 percentage points over the past three years.

The foundation has also invested in Washington, D.C. for more than 10 years, and today more than two-thirds of district families are exercising choice by choosing a charter, private or district school other than the one assigned to them because of their zip code. Between 2003 and 2009, DC had the largest improvement nationally in NAEP performance in both reading and math at grade 4; and at grade 8, DC's increase in NAEP performance ranked 6th in reading and 4th in math.

The foundation looks to a number of metrics to determine progress, including the increasing number of high-quality schools available to low-income parents. Ultimately, student achievement determines success, and the long-term goal is to raise student achievement and close the persistent performance and attainment gap between low-income children and their affluent peers.