Walton Family Foundation: Grants for STEM Education

 OVERVIEW: The Walmart family’s foundation is deeply and heavily invested in the school choice and charter school movement and gives several million in grants to launch or improve charter schools. Walton does not target science education specifically, but it does prioritize education philanthropy in general and some of that funding makes its way to science education.

IP TAKE: For schools with a STEM education focus, Walton seeks to prepare graduates for the high-tech workforce. But many grants are by invitation only, and grantseekers should note the geographic restrictions on the foundation’s Environment and Home Region programs.

PROFILE: The Walton Family Foundation was created by Wal-Mart founders Sam and Helen Walton and is currently run by their grandchildren. The foundation is rooted in the “belief in the power of individuals to transform their lives” and focuses on large-scale “transformative” grants to realize that possibility. It is, by annual giving, among the top funders in the country. So even though science education is not an explicit priority for the Walton Family Foundation, some of its annual grants end up benefiting the cause.

Within that broad context, the foundation has three main funding areas: K-12 education, environments and communities, and “giving back” to the family’s “home region” of “northwest Arkansas and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta.”

Regarding the foundation’s K-12 education funding, Walton prioritizes education reform, promoting the charter school movement, funding charter schools directly, and ultimately injecting the competitive spirit of capitalism into the school system. The only real opening for grantseekers to secure Walton's K-12 science education funding is through charter schools that focus on STEM education. Walton has a very large program to set up new public charter schools. So for a startup or existing school that puts a focus on science, tech, engineering and math education, Walton could be a big funder.

Before applying for funds to establish a charter, Walton requires that prospective applicants receive a referral “from a Walton Family Foundation program officer or grant partner.” Options for higher education science funding from Walton are quite limited but still exist. On the plus side, the foundation does accept unsolicited letters of inquiry throughout the year.

Walton is an intimidating funder to approach, but its size and scope make it a potentially indispensable partner in a science education initiative.