Billionaire philanthropists have pushed to expand charter schools by giving millions of dollars to state-level charter support organizations, including Georgia’s, according to an Associated Press report.
Since 2006, the Georgia Charter Schools Association has received $11.8 million from philanthropists and their private foundations and charities, according to the report.
That’s far less than California, Louisiana or Indiana but significantly more than Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. It’s on a par with Arkansas, Colorado and Texas.
The report assesses the influence of billionaires such as Bill Gates and the Walton family, noting that the Walton name came up in the Georgia governor’s race. In a surreptitious recording, candidate Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle admits he supported increased funding for a private school scholarship program due to the potential influence of Walton money on the race. Cagle’s questioner had asked him about his role in last-minute Senate changes to a charter school funding bill, but Cagle shifted the subject to the scholarship legislation.
The Walton Family Foundation’s political arm has denied spending on the gubernatorial campaign.
Donor money comprised 70 percent of the Georgia Charter School Association’s funding for one recent year, according to tax documents. The organization took in $2.4 million — $1.7 million from unspecified donors and the bulk of the rest from programs, membership dues and an annual conference, the 2015 document says.
The association has lobbied for charter legislation, like this year’s increase in public funding for state-authorized charter schools. A spokeswoman said about 35 percent of the association’s total funding has come from the Walton foundation.
The association’s chief executive officer, Tony Roberts, said donor money has helped fund advocacy work affecting more than 86,000 charter school students.
The money isn’t just for politics, though. It also supports things like training for board members and teachers at charter schools, which are independently operated with public money and enroll public school students, Roberts said.
“These efforts help ensure that more Georgia children have access to an excellent and transformative public education.”