Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Walmart, Public Education and Our Students

I recently saw a tweet that led me to an article about the impact of Walmart on public education in this country (click here for the article).  Those of us who are advocates for public education are no doubt very familiar with the efforts of the Walmart Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and others who purport to advance the quality of public education.  On the surface, we can all agree that any efforts to provide enhanced educational opportunities for students are a good thing.  But at what expense to those they say they are trying to impact?

And that’s where the Walmart business model that has yielded so much success for the family and their shareholders starts to come into focus.  I have traveled a great deal of the country by car and, as a result, have gone through numerous small towns where Main Street USA has become a ghost town.  And in many cases, the tip-off that this would be the case can be found out the outskirts of town where a Walmart has been built.  Would Main Street USA have disappeared without Walmart coming into town?  Perhaps so since there has been a flight from small towns to the cities for any number of reasons, including droughts and the impact on farming.  But the presence of the large corporations in these small towns has been significant.

So how does all of this impact public education?  As proponents of so-called school choice promote vouchers and charter schools, they are promoting options that impact their corporate bottom line, often at the expense of the local communities and the local schools within those communities.  Instead of being at the core of the community, the push to privatize is leaving local schools much like the local businesses who have been displaced by Walmart, fractured and, in many cases, shuttered.

Has the Walmart strategy been good for the Walton family and shareholders?  Unquestionably.  What about the small business on Main Street USA?  Certainly not.  And what will be the impact of their efforts on the stakeholders in public education, namely the students and parents in communities currently served by local schools?  That verdict is still out but it seems likely to me that we run the risk that outcomes will be very much like those of the small businesses that no longer exist.  This time, however, we are talking about students. 

As a final thought, quoting the author of the article, Jeff Bryant, “Completely lost in the discussion, though, is whether it's right for the American populace to have its access to education determined by the values and philosophy of a few rich people.”  The discussion should center instead on the needs of the students and how we Make Education a Priority for the nearly 5.3 million Texas public education students.  

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