Sam Walton’s Son Played Major Role In Setting Agenda On School Choice

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

In 2005, the school choice movement lost one of its leading champions when John T. Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart retailing fortune, died in a plane crash at age 58.

Advocates of expanded educational options say Mr. Walton, more than anyone else, was the driving force behind the Walton Family Foundation’s education work, and its focus on promoting school choice, from public charter schools to private school vouchers.

John T. Walton
John T. Walton
—Brigitte Stelzer/Polaris-File

“He provided the passion and the direction in the early years for the foundation,” said Clint R. Bolick, a longtime school choice lawyer. “John was the most passionate reformer I’ve ever met, and certainly the most unassuming billionaire I’ve ever met.”

Mr. Walton—one of four children born to Helen and Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart—took a hands-on approach to philanthropy. He met often with other funders, education advocates, and politicians to advance the choice agenda. He sat on the boards of groups such as the California Charter Schools Association and the Washington-based Alliance for School Choice, both of which he and the foundation helped create.

Howard L. Fuller, an education professor at Marquette University and a leading proponent of school choice, said Mr. Walton was distressed about the inadequate education so many U.S. children receive. “He really did care deeply about the plight of low-income students,” said Mr. Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee public schools. “And though it doesn’t fit with the conspiratorial theories, ... he wasn’t anti-public education. He was for quality and choice, and he put his money where his mouth was.”

Beyond his foundation work, Mr. Walton separately donated heavily to promote vouchers and charters, backing political action committees, candidates, and ballot initiatives. In 1998, he and New York financier Theodore J. Forstmann each contributed $50 million to launch the nonprofit Children’s Scholarship Fund, which helps low-income families pay private school tuition.

Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank that supports school choice, said that he and others had worried what Mr. Walton’s death might mean for the Walton Foundation’s focus on choice.

“The question was, without him, whether they would continue with the same spirit and generosity,” Mr. Finn said. “As best I can tell, it has absolutely continued in the way John would have wanted it to.”

Vol. 28, Issue 11, Page 19

Published in Print: November 5, 2008, as Sam Walton’s Son Played Major Role In Setting Agenda On School Choice
Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Vocabulary Development for Striving Readers

Free Ebook: How to Implement a Coding Program in Schools

Successful Intervention Builds Student Success

Effective Ways to Support Students with Dyslexia

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

Building Community for Social Good

5 Resources on the Power of Interoperability from Unified Edtech

New campaign for UN World Teachers Day

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

Tips for Supporting English Learners Through Personalized Approaches

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >