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Chicago largest recipient of Walton Family Foundation money for charter schools

Updated: February 10, 2013 5:47PM

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Wal-Mart’s founder, gave more money to Chicago to start new charter schools last year than it did to any other city —­ $3.8 million.

That brings the total donated to Chicago schools to $22.8 million since 1997 by the largest private funder of charter school startups.

The foundation sees “high quality public charters” as a way to empower parents, said Ed Kirby, deputy director for Walton’s education reform efforts. The company was founded by Sam Walton.

In 2012, the Walton foundation handed up to $250,000 in startup money to 13 new charter schools, some of which have already opened: KIPP Create College Prep Middle School, Noble-DRW Trading College Prep and Noble-Auburn Gresham, LEARN-6th Campus, an UNO elementary school, Catalyst-Maria Charter and the Montessori School of Englewood.

Christopher House Charter School and Chicago Collegiate Charter School, two of the 11 greenlighted to open in the fall, also were among the recipients. The Noble network also plans to open two more using the $1 million it received last year in Walton money, according to the foundation.

Charter schools, like neighborhood public schools, are funded by the government according to how many students they have but typically don’t receive any of that money until students are actually in the building attending classes.

“Generally, we’re providing operational support that helps a school address all its costs in its startup,” Kirby said. “Charters are fully public so they ought to be self sufficient with public funding in the long term.”

Chicago Public Schools says the district cannot continue to run its existing schools because there are more classroom spots than students. CPS has not yet said how many neighborhood schools it plans to shutter or consolidate for being under capacity as it stares down a $1 billion deficit by summer. In a move the Chicago Teachers Union calls “hypocrisy,” schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett recommended two new charters for board approval last month — Chicago Collegiate is one of them.

Chicago International Charter School has received $4 million to date since opening in 1997, said CICS CEO Beth Purvis. Each $250,000 installation helped set up the new school in a similar way: furniture, library shelving, curricular materials — sometimes kitchen equipment. Best of all, the network didn’t have to go into debt as it was opening its doors, she said.

“They have been very generous donors to us,” she said. “You can’t underestimate the importance of this money.”

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