Jeffco school board to look at Walton Foundation-backed charter

The Jefferson County Board of Education Thursday will take a first look at an application for a new charter school backed by the family foundation of Walmart founder, Sam Walton.

The Walton Family Foundation, a major supporter of charter schools, is putting up $250,000 to help bankroll Great Work Montessori School, which its leadership hopes to open in 2017. The school would serve students from pre-Kindergarten through eighth grades in “one of the most resource-restricted and highest need areas of Eastern Jefferson County,” according to the application. Likely locations are Wheat Ridge or Edgewater, where there is already a Great Work preschool. The charter could enroll up to 350 students and is based on the Montessori teaching method, a “whole-child” philosophy where students learn in multi-age classrooms and generally move at their own academic pace.

Great Work Montessori is the third such effort in Jeffco launched by Chicago-based attorney, Paul Svoboda, with support from the Walton Foundation. The other two: Great Work Learning Community, a private preschool that charges between $50 and $200 per month in tuition; and AMI Montessori, a teacher-training academy.

The Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation gives to a variety of causes, but its greatest interest is in K-12 education. Toward that aim, the Foundation has helped fund one-quarter of the charter schools established in the United States.

The Foundation also kicked in $300,000 to the Douglas County School District to help cover legal costs tied to the district’s voucher program, which was declared unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court last year. The voucher program, constructed by the conservative board majority, would have provided taxpayer-funded vouchers to students who could then attend private or religious schools, even those not in the Douglas County School District.

The district appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015; the court has not yet taken up the matter.

Related: Tracking the money funding conservative school board’s voucher lawsuit

The Walton Family Foundation has been active in Colorado for several years, providing big dollars to help charter schools start up in Jefferson and Denver counties. The foundation invested just under $8 million in 2011 in Colorado-based charter schools and related initiatives, such as charter school teacher training.

Great Work Montessori not the only proposed charter school using Walton money to help launch in the next year: the K-5 Downtown Denver Expeditionary School recently received a $325,000 grant from the Foundation to start up a middle school, also slated for fall 2017.

The board meeting starts at 6 p.m. tonight at Jeffco school district offices, 1829 Denver West Drive, Golden.


Photo: Trading Academy Creative Commons, Flickr. 

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.