In a heated debate over whether contract schools are good for black students, Walmart's heirs to the estate are striving to break into the pockets of influential advocates and leaders in the black community.

The Walton family, one of the leading supporters of the American charter school movement, is extending financial support to leading black, like-minded leaders from grassroots education-focused groups to traditional national organizations. such as the United Negro College Fund and the Congressional Black. Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax returns and data on nonprofit grants.

"The people closest to the challenge often have the best solution," said Marc Sternberg, who leads the Walton Family Foundation's education efforts, in a statement.

Chartered schools, which are publicly funded and privately run, are often located in densely populated urban areas to replace schools in difficulty. According to the latest federal data, the number of black registrations in charters has doubled over a decade to reach more than 760,000 students in 2015-2016, but the increase has also been marked by concerns about racial segregation, the inconsistent results of the evacuation of public district schools.

While some black leaders consider charters as a safer and better alternative in their communities, a call for a moratorium on charters launched by the NAACP in 2016 revealed a deep divergence of opinion, a long-time skeptic who has expressed concern over the privatization, transparency and accountability issues of schools. . The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those who have called for the growth of charter schools to be curbed.

When NAACP leaders met to discuss the charters in 2016, a group of protesters led the Cincinnati hotel to complain to the intrusion police. The three buses that brought the 150 black Tennessee parents on the 14-hour ride were provided by The Memphis Lift, a rights group that has received $ 1.5 million from the Walton Foundation since 2015.

Deidra Brooks, chief of staff at The Memphis Lift, said Walton had not asked them to organize the event and declined to say how much of their budget came from the foundation. The advocacy group created by Walton Money also provides parents with a school board and advocacy training.

Like US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and many other billionaire philanthropists with deep pockets, Walmart's heirs – one of the most prominent families in the world. richer Americans – adopt charter schools and education reform to help the poor. The Walton Foundation is in the middle of a $ 1 billion pledge dedicated primarily to the expansion of charters, which they see as an investment to find better ways to educate them. those who struggle in traditional school systems.

Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Walton Foundation was leaning on black faces to defend its charters, suggesting that it exploits blacks for a "white program".

"It is unfortunate that education reform is about your budget and not about the connection you have with black communities," Perry said.

A large portion of the $ 9 million awarded to the United Negro College Fund was spent on the scholarship program for students interested in educational reform. Similarly, the foundation has donated $ 170,000 in recent years to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation for its events, while the Walton has also donated $ 530,000 to sponsor a training workshop in defense of education policy and campaign.

Walton's money totals nearly $ 2 million for the 100 Black Men of America campaign and $ 7.3 million for the National Urban League. Both groups have close ties to charter schools in the field.

The Walton gave small sums to other types of black community groups, including New England Blacks in Philanthropy, the Association of Black Foundation Executives, and the National Black Child Development Institute.

And this year, the foundation sponsored a luncheon at a conference at the National Association of Black Journalists, in Detroit, which was featured as "The Importance of Educating Our Black Children" and which mainly featured the beneficiaries of the pro-charter charter of Walton.

"Of course, we have witnessed the reluctance of the general population, but it goes hand in hand with privatization.The forces of privatization are powerful and have friends in all kinds of places," said Victor Goode, director of NAACP education.

After the NAACP proposed the moratorium, Walton Money participated in the much-publicized debate that followed. The National Alliance for Public Schools, a defense group that received more than $ 16 million from Walton, organized a campaign that urged the NACCP to reconsider its decision, including a letter signed by over 160 leaders blacks of education.

Among them was Howard Fuller, a former Milwaukee school supporter and Charter defender. Walton donated $ 17 million to its rights group, Black Alliance for Educational Options, which has now disappeared.

Chris Stewart, another outspoken critic of the moratorium idea, leads the Wayfinder Foundation, a lobby group that received nearly $ 2 million from Walton. He hinted that the country's oldest civil rights group was in the pocket of the teacher union's interests, an issue he insisted on using the #FreeTheNAACP hashtag online.

"In all cities, if you advocate charters, you're out of your depth, it's impossible for you to match the number of infantry that will support an anti-charter story," Stewart told the public. teacher unions that may lose with non-union schools.

Sternberg of the Walton Foundation said that all the aggressive advocacy acts of its beneficiaries in the debate are rooted in the impatience of a century of educational inequalities toward blacks. The foundation also reports $ 120,000 in grants to the NAACP over the past two years for event sponsorship and support to other black human rights groups over the past 25 years.

"This is not our agenda," Sternberg said. "It's much bigger than us."

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Follow Sally Ho, AP Education reporter, on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_SallyHo