Widgets Magazine

Walmart heiress and alum Carrie Walton Penner joins Board

School choice advocate and GSE alum Carrie Walton Penner will begin her term as trustee on June 1 (Courtesy of Stanford News).

Walmart heiress and Graduate School of Education alum Carrie Walton Penner ’97 has been elected to a five year term on the Board of Trustees. Penner, who is also chair of the board of directors at the Walton Foundation and an advocate for school choice, will start her term on June 1.

“Carrie brings an extensive level of experience and an extraordinary depth of involvement in philanthropic educational organizations,” said Steven Denning MBA ’78, chair of the Board. Denning spoke highly of Penner, saying that she will provide an invaluable perspective.

According to the Stanford Report, Penner has focused on education research and philanthropy for more than 20 years with an emphasis on “improving access to high-quality schools for every child, particularly those in low-income communities.”

Much of this philanthropic work has directed funds toward charter schools. Penner is currently a board member of the KIPP Foundation and the Charter School Growth Fund, and was formerly a board member of the California Charter Schools Association. She was also a board member of the Alliance for School Choice — the largest U.S. organization supporting school choice, previously headed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

School choice is an education policy proposal that aims to offer alternatives to the traditional public school system by, in some cases, providing vouchers from tax revenue to families to send their children to private or charter schools. The policy has recently come under scrutiny after the appointment of Secretary DeVos, an avid supporter of school choice.

According to the Washington Post, the Walton Foundation donated over $6 million to the Alliance for School Choice in 2013, essentially doubling the organization’s budget.

Previous Stanford research published by the Economic Policy Institute has found troubling effects of school choice. Graduate School of Education Professor Martin Carnoy examined research over 25 years across a variety of U.S. cities and states that have used voucher programs and discovered that vouchers not only fail to improve scores, but also do not cost less than traditional public education, as proponents commonly argue.

In Milwaukee, for example, where the U.S.’s largest school voucher program has been ongoing for 20 years, black students have continued to rank last and second-to-last in math compared to 13 other urban school districts. (Black students make up 70 percent of the city’s voucher users).

Meanwhile, Carnoy found that improvements in scores actually came from public pressure of publicizing the test results, which caused teachers to teach explicitly to the test.

“There are many policy changes that are likely to have much higher payoffs than privatization,” Carnoy told Stanford News this February.

Penner and her husband, Greg Penner MBA ’97, have also contributed to a variety of political campaigns over the years, including both the Hillary Clinton Victory Fund and Kasich for America, Inc.

Elsewhere on campus, Penner is on the advisory council of the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and served on the school’s search committee for a new dean in the 2014-2015 school year. She and her husband are large donors to the Graduate School of Business, Stanford Athletics and the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program.

Penner will join a Board of Trustees that as of February 1 had 33 members. Board membership is limited to 38 individuals, and four more trustees are expected to be announced in the next year. According to the Alumni Association website, the Board makes decisions on topics such as “strategic allocation of resources, land use, academic programs, housing and other facility planning, regulatory responsibilities, federal and public support of education, community relations, minority affairs, audit and financial controls and fundraising planning.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Penner was formerly the director of the California Charter Schools Association; this is incorrect as Penner was a member of the board of directors. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Ada Statler-Throckmorton at adastat ‘at’ stanford.edu. and Fiona Kelliher at fionak ‘at’ stanford.edu.