Yet another interesting post from Ken Libby at DFER Watch. Democrats for Education Reform founder and hedge fund millionaire Whitney Tilson has released a documentary (produced by venture capitalist Robert Compton) in which he explains that Walmart heir John Walton was an inspiration for the group’s founding. Based on the transcript below, Tilson and his allies felt that while they agreed with Walton’s views, turning down Walton Foundation money was necessary to avoid being connected with Walmart’s anti-union reputation — even while DFER itself pushed to weaken the voices of teachers and their unions in public school reform. The Walton Foundation seems to have had better luck, however, in persuading DFER ally Thomas Carroll to proudly accept Walmart money to support his charter real estate business.
[DFER was started] …with a few other friends that are involved with a couple other charter schools, and they were money managers like me involved with a couple similarly high-performing charter schools, we finally decided to create a little guerrilla movement within the Democratic party. Interestingly, it came about as a result — what really catalyzed it — was a conversation with John Walton, who passed away a couple years ago in a plane accident, as you may be aware. But he, through his foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, has been one of the most generous supporters of KIPP and other charter schools and school reform in general. And he was a big backer of a group called the Alliance for School Choice. So we saw him speak at the Harvard Club, a couple of my friends and I, went to talk to him afterwards and he invited us to come join this organization and so we participated in a few calls. And what we discovered was that we were the only Democrats on the call or in the room, and it was largely backed by well-known Republicans like John Walton and Wal-Mart and so forth, and they were quite successful at persuading Republican politicians to support whatever legislation and so forth but were having a lot more trouble getting traction with Democrats.