Schools Question Whether to Accept Funds From Walmart, Walton Family Foundation

In the wake of the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the relationship between the Walton Family Foundation, one of the leading funders of education reform in the United States, and Walmart, the largest seller of guns in the country, has led some educators and school administrators to question whether they should continue to accept funds from the foundation, Bloomberg.com reports.

Members of the Walton family own more than 48 percent of Walmart, the retail giant founded by Sam Walton in 1962, while the Walton Family Foundation has awarded nearly $313 million for charter schools and school choice since 1997, more than any other private foundation or donor. But with Walmart's revenue from the sale of guns and ammunition having increased 76 percent and 30 percent, respectively, between April and October, a growing number of educators and school leaders are voicing concern about the relationship between the two. "It's a moral issue," said Andrew Sweigard, principal of the Academy of New Media Middle School in Columbus, Ohio. "Can we take funding from a company that is liked to a potential disaster in our schools? Do we want to associate ourselves with guns?"

Indeed, Walmart has faced growing public pressure to stop selling semi-automatic firearms since the tragedy in Newtown, with almost three hundred thousand people having signed petitions calling on the company to limit its gun sales, SumOfUs.org reports. But while some of its competitors have suspended the sale of military-style firearms, approximately 30 percent of Walmart stores continue to sell them.

In Columbus, debate about Walmart and Walton family donations has divided the faculty of New Media Middle. Located across from a stretch of boarded-up apartments, the charter school received $30,000 in startup funds from the Walton Family Foundation in 2010 and an additional $220,000 in 2011. The middle school has no security guard and its doors are unlocked. Sweigard has met with his staff since the Newtown shootings to discuss updating the school's security policy.

Meanwhile, some members of the faculty question whether the financially struggling school is in a position to pass up gifts from its largest funder. "It's not up to me to criticize their financial decisions," Mike Stuckey, a math teacher told Bloomberg. "That's part of running a business."

Renee Dudley. "Schools Hit by Morality of Wal-Mart Guns Funding Charity." Bloomberg.com 01/22/2013.