$250 million from Walton Foundation initiative to benefit charter schools in Tulsa

Posted at 4:23 PM, Jun 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-29 23:35:45-04

TULSA—An initiative funded by the heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton is expanding with a $250 million grant to support charter schools. The money will be available to charter schools in 17 U.S. cities, including Tulsa.

The Building Equity Initiative aims to offer funds to organizations that establish and expand charter schools. The foundation will distribute the funds to companies that help facilitate the building and expansion of charter schools through an application process.

A Walton Family Foundation spokesperson says it’s unclear how much of the available $250 million will go directly to Tulsa. It depends, in part, on how many originations submit applications for the money.

The announcement comes at a time when public school funding is under scrutiny by some who say public schools aren’t getting enough money.

As public schools face funding shortfalls and many perform poorly on mandated tests, the demand for charter schools is growing.

For some students, a charter school can be a second chance at an education that came up short in the past.

“Kids get a new opportunity for learning we focus on their education and where they are and moving forward,” said Dr. Rodney Clark, Superintendent Langston Hughes Academy.

Rodney Clark is a charter school advocate. Clark helped create Langston Hughes Academy in 2014 with a previous Walton Family Foundation grant.

“So we're hoping and excited that we can get that opportunity and be able to build a quality charter school that not only the Walton Family Foundation be happy about, but our community will be happy about," Clark said.

For Joyce Smith-Williams, the grandparent of an LHA student—mixed emotions-- as she watches her grandson succeed, she also sees a broken education system.

“It's frightening because you know I am a proponent for public school systems and I know that charter schools exist because of negligent action for one reason or another on the part of the public school systems so it is an alternative," Smith-Williams said.

An alternative she’s happy to have, but would like to see more students take advantage of. That’s something supporters say the charter school grant could help.

The money will be distributed to organizations that will help create or expand charter schools.

A spokesperson for the Walton Family Foundation says the initiative is still in its early stages so a timetable is not yet available.

Charter schools fall under the same state grading system as traditional public schools. To see a list of the state's report card and how charter schools stack up to public schools in Tulsa click here.

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