June 7, 2024

Griffin Coop & Benjamin Hardy: Jim Walton gives $500K to defend Arkansas school vouchers from ballot measure

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When vouchers go to the ballot box, they lose. But as Griffin Coop and Benjamin Hardy report for Arkansas Times, some deep pocketed voucher supporters are trying to change that.

Walmart heir and Arvest Bank CEO Jim Walton donated $500,000 last month to a group working to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on K-12 education, according to documents filed last month with the Arkansas Ethics Commission.

The Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment would require private schools that accept public funding in the form of school vouchers to meet the same academic standards as public schools. It would also guarantee pre-K, afterschool care and other services. Organizers must gather over 90,000 signatures statewide before a July deadline in order to get the proposal before Arkansas voters in the November election.

The school voucher program was created by the Arkansas LEARNS Act, the sweeping K-12 education law championed by Gov. Sarah Sanders and passed by the state Legislature last year.

Walton, 75, has an estimated net worth of $78.4 billion, according to Forbes, making him the 18th wealthiest person in the world. (Siblings Rob Walton and Alice Walton are close behind, at $77.4 billion and $72.3 billion, the magazine says.)

Arkansans for Students and Educators, a ballot question committee with connections to Sanders, was formed in April to oppose the Educational Rights Amendment. In addition to the $500,000 donation from Jim Walton, the group’s most recent disclosure form showed it received $10,000 from Winrock Farms CEO Lisenne Rockefeller and $1,000 from Simmons Bank CEO George Makris.

Steve Adams of Carrollton, Georgia, contributed another $25,000 to Arkansans for Students and Educators. Adams is the president and CEO of Verida, a medical transportation company based in Georgia.

In stark contrast to the $636,000 raised by the group in April, For AR Kids, the ballot question committee promoting the Educational Rights Amendment, reported raising $2,369 last month. That brings its total contributions to $4,561.

Arkansans for Students and Educators has already spent several times more than what For AR Kids has raised — it spent $29,803 in April, mostly on advertising through a Washington, D.C., company that specializes in peer-to-peer text messaging.

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