Think about that for a minute. When the Walmart heirs take a break from paying workers so little they qualify for food stamps and refusing to pay Bangladeshi contractors enough to have fire extinguishers in their factories, their philanthropic agenda is right in line with the Michelle Rhee education policy agenda. This isn't a first, either; $8 million over two years represents an increase in the Walmart investment in StudentsFirst, but the Waltons have already been a substantial source of money, giving $3 million to StudentsFirst since late 2010. StudentsFirst is also only one of many corporate education policy groups the Waltons have backed to the tune of $1 billion so far. Just what might a family whose vast wealth comes from low-wage labor and fierce anti-unionism like so much about so-called education reform? There's the obvious effort to bust teachers unions. But there's more than that. As I wrote last year:
Education is a labor issue because it's how we train children to someday be workers, determining many of the conditions under which young adults enter the workforce. It's a labor issue because school funding represents an investment, or a failure to invest, in the mass of people. Abandoning them as children, whether by underfunding the schools they attend or putting corporate profits first, is basically a guarantee they'll face worse as adults.Test-driven education and a system in which some schools and some kids are favored investments while others are treated as disposable is a perfect setup for a Walmart economy, in which six Waltons have as much money as 30 percent of Americans. By bringing corporate profit ever more into the schools in the form of crappy privatized school lunches or companies that are paid both for tests and for test prep materials, kids become accustomed to the idea that profit matters more than anything, an idea many will carry into their adult working lives.
And StudentsFirst is increasingly blatant about the fact that, for it and its Walton overlords, this agenda comes before anything else. It comes at the expense of gay kids, not just in Tennessee but in Michigan, where StudentsFirst spent $70,000 to defend a gay-baiting state representative facing recall. It comes at the expense of immigrant kids. Shoot, in the immediate wake of Newtown, it took public pressure to get StudentsFirst to come out against a Michigan bill allowing concealed carry in schools. The group that claims to put students first at first had no position—because really, it's not about students. It's about breaking teachers unions and privatizing education, and everything else along the way is irrelevant.
Scott Wooledge has more discussion of the Walton contribution to StudentsFirst.