Walmart has been transforming schools in its hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, through grants, non-profits, and corporate outreach, imposing its ideology on the community. In January 2020, Walmart offered diversity training sessions to public school administrators in Bentonville to create racially equitable organizations and systems. By August of that year, teachers were learning that perfectionism is white supremacy and that the US was built on a racial hierarchy.
Walmart is now just as progressive as the rest of corporate America, earning a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index in 2022. The company is owned and controlled by the descendants of Sam Walton, who opened the first Walmart store in 1962. The Waltons, once staunch Republicans with close ties to the national GOP, have shifted left with each passing generation.
Since 2018, the Waltons have spent millions on progressive initiatives across Arkansas, including drag shows for children and pro-bono Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) consulting. Few companies have funded DEI programs outside their walls, and even fewer have funded them in public schools. Walmart has laundered its ideology as a kind of noblesse oblige.
The transformation has taken place largely out of public view, aided by Walmart and the Waltons’ largesse and the school districts’ lack of transparency. Families who have finally obtained records have been left feeling betrayed.
Walmart has been pushing its DEI agenda on an open door when offering to connect Bentonville school administrators with the Racial Equity Institute, the same consulting group that conducts the company’s own diversity training sessions.
Walmart’s influence was even stronger in Fayetteville, where the district outsourced much of its DEI work to a network of Walmart and Walton family-backed groups. The district was chosen to participate in a $2.5 million DEI training initiative, TRUE Northwest Arkansas, funded by the Walmart Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The program has since expanded to include hundreds of groups in the region.
Fayetteville also partnered with the University of Arkansas’s IDEALS Institute, another DEI program funded by Walmart and the Walton Family Foundation, to create a Five-Year Equity Competency Plan, which began in 2019. The $200,000 grant paid for training sessions on microaggressions, DEI leadership, and culturally relevant pedagogy.
Fayetteville took great pains to shield these materials from public scrutiny. It initially refused to comply with a public record request from a retired history teacher who, in June 2021, asked for detailed information about the equity plan. The district only relented after she filed a lawsuit under Arkansas’s Freedom of Information Act.
The pushback bodes ill for Arkansas’s corporate goliath, which may soon face the slingshot of the state’s voters. The Waltons’ woke turn is “costing them influence” and “their public defeats are further diminishing their power in the state,” said Jay Greene, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
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