The Walton Family Foundation has announced that it will award a total of $3 million to support greater school choice in Indianapolis in 2012, its largest single-year investment in the city to date.
The funds will be used to support the creation and expansion of charter schools in the city as well as organizations working to increase high-quality public school options. Recipients include the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, the Indiana Department of Education, School Choice Indiana, and the Mind Trust.
The foundation began investing in Indianapolis school reform efforts in 2001 — the same year Indiana's charter school law was passed — with an eye toward helping expand charter schools and school voucher programs. In 2011, the foundation selected Indianapolis as one of sixteen national "investment sites" after the state created its first voucher program and the public charter school system was expanded to serve an additional 22,500 students. The number of students allowed to participate in the voucher program will increase to 15,000 students this year, and the cap on voucher students will be eliminated entirely in 2013.
Advocates for traditional public schools have argued that investing heavily in charter and voucher schools diverts resources away from traditional public schools, undermining efforts to improve them — a view not shared by Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard or officials at the foundation. "In just a few short years, Indiana lawmakers have expanded the rights of parents to have access to quality schools, including traditional public, public charter, and private schools," said Ed Kirby, senior program officer at the Walton Family Foundation. "With this year's investments, we are indicating our intent to be a long-term partner with Indianapolis. We hope to further support advocates, policy makers, and school operators [to] create an environment where more parents have strong school options."