How the Waltons could contribute to real improvements in kids’ educations

In Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, President Obama proposed making universal preschool available to all American children. Implementation of early childhood education programs doesn’t come without some upfront costs, of course, but research demonstrates that it’s a great investment that leads to positive long-term outcomes in children’s lives. In particular, it benefits poor children, helping narrow achievement gaps that often exist between them and their wealthier peers.

The Walton family is big into education reform—you’d think they’d be major supporters of broader access to preschool, particularly since it would especially help the children of Walmart’s low-wage associates, right? Nope. In 2006, Walmart director and Walton family member Greg Penner contributed $250,000 to an effort opposing a universal pre-kindergarten program in California. (It would take the average full-time Walmart worker 14 years to earn as much money as Penner dropped on this one race.) The program would have been funded through an additional income tax on the state’s very wealthiest people—individuals making individuals making more than $400,000 a year, and couples making in excess of $800,000.

Rather than support investments and improvements in education that are supported by evidence, the Waltons base their efforts in education reform around their strong ideological belief in undermining public education. So rather than sacrifice a tiny portion of their wealth to a public preschool program, they instead spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding pro-voucher and pro-charter organizations, politicians, political action committees, and ballot issues.

The Walton family became the richest family in the nation by creating a business built on ruthless cost-cutting and low-wage, low-benefit jobs—the kinds of jobs that keep families and children in poverty. If the Waltons are really, truly serious about improving childrens’ educations and lives, they should set aside their privatization ideology, support early childhood education, and use their influence at Walmart to turn millions of Walmart jobs into good jobs with a living wage and benefits.