A number of charter schools that rely on donations from a charity started by Walmart's founder are questioning whether they should continue accepting the funds in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
The Walton Family Foundation, established by Sam Walton, has given more money to charter schools than any other private donor, Businessweek reports. But some of those schools are reconsidering whether they should take money from a foundation made up of family members who own more than 48 percent of Walmart, which sells more guns than any other retailer in the U.S.
The New Media Middle School in Columbus, Ohio –- which has gotten $250,000 in gifts from the foundation -- is one such charter school that doesn’t know if accepting the funds is ethically responsible after a gunman took the lives of 20 students and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
“It’s a dilemma,” Principal Andrew Sweigard told Businessweek. “It’s a moral issue. Can we take funding from a company that is linked to a potential disaster in our school? Do we want to associate ourselves with guns?”
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg declined to address the pointed concerns raised by charter schools, Businessweek reported.
While Sweigard, and a slew of other charter school administrators, struggle with the source of their funds, some are open to donations from the foundation.
The foundation gave $3.8 million to Chicago -- more money than it gave to any other city -- to start new charter schools last year, according to the Chicago Sun Times. It’s given a total of $22.8 million to schools in the Windy City since 1997.
“They have been very generous donors to us,” Beth Purvis, CEO of Chicago International Charter School, told the Chicago Sun Times earlier this month. “You can’t underestimate the importance of this money.” Her school has received $4 million since it opened in 1997.
While some have been able to separate the foundation’s charitable dealings from its retail operations, one organization said it wouldn’t take money from a chain whose fundamentals stood in stark contrast to its principles.
When Walmart opened a store in Tuscon, Ariz., in October, it pledged to give a combined $15,000 to several local charities, the Arizona Daily Star reports. But Casa Maria Free Kitchen, a nonprofit that gives out 500 free lunches to low- and no-income residents daily, declined a $2,000 donation, because it disagrees with its business practices.
"We feel that even though Walmart has low prices, they pay lousy wages, they're anti-union and they have a detrimental effect on the survival of small businesses," Brian Flagg, who oversees the charity, told the Arizona Daily Star. "We consider that blood money."
While Casa Maria took a major risk by not accepting the money, it ended up seeing donations pour in from those who supported the charity’s stance, CNN reports. Flagg didn’t say exactly how much the organization received, but he did say that he was “sure” that it was significantly more than what Walmart had offered.
Still, while Casa Maria was quick to reject the funds, Flagg admitted that it would’ve been a more difficult decision if the proposed pledge was equitable to what some charter schools receive from the Walton Family Foundation.
"I live in the real world," Flagg told the Arizona Daily Star. "It would be a whole different situation if it was $200,000."
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