John T. Walton Champions for School Choice Award


The Alliance for School Choice honors a prominent leader in the school choice movement for groundbreaking and dedicated work for America’s children with the John T. Walton Champions for School Choice Award, named after committed philanthropist and education benefactor John T. Walton. Prior to honoring our 2012 award winner, the Alliance spoke with past winners about John's impact on the movement and their lives.



Award Recipients


Dr. Tony Bennett, 2012

Thoughtful Leader, Courageous Reformer, and Advocate for Educational Opportunity


Dr. Tony Bennett has dedicated his professional life to education, working as a teacher, coach, assistant superintendent, and state superintendent. Upon his election as Indiana's Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2008, Dr. Bennett immediately began working closely with Governor Mitch Daniels and the Indiana General Assembly to improve the state's education system. He pledged to work to ensure that every classroom in Indiana has an effective teacher and every child can read by the time he or she leaves third grade. Dr. Bennett was in 2011 instrumental in the creation of the Choice Scholarship Program, the statewide voucher program in Indiana that boasts the largest-ever first year enrollment in a voucher program. He holds a bachelor's and a master's degree from Indiana University Southeast and received his Ed.D. and Superintendent's License from Spalding University.


Dr. Howard Fuller, 2011

Pioneer, Leader, and Passionate Advocate for Low-Income Children


Dr. Howard Fuller serves as the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning (ITL) at Marquette University, which supports exemplary education options that transform learning for children, while empowering families to choose the best school options.  Fuller served as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools from 1991-1995.  He is the cofounder and former chairman of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.  Fuller also serves as chairman for The Alliance for Choices in Education in Milwaukee, the CEO Leadership Academy, and Quest Milwaukee.  Fuller has dedicated his career to helping low-income children in Wisconsin access a quality education. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Carroll College, his M.S.A. from Western Reserve University, and his Ph.D. from Marquette University.


Bill Oberndorf, 2010

Founding Board Member, Philanthropist, and Visionary Chairman


Bill Oberndorf is a founding partner of SPO Partners & Co., a private equity investment firm.  Oberndorf is chairman of the boards of directors of Aggregates USA and Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.  He serves on the investment committee of Hotel Equity Funds, on the board of directors of Calpine Corporation, as director emeritus of Plum Creek Timber Co.  Oberndorf is co-founder, board member, and chairman emeritus of the Alliance for School Choice.  Oberndorf also serves as a trustee of The Thacher School, The University of California San Francisco Foundation, and University School in Cleveland, Ohio, and is a former trustee of Williams College. He has a Master of Business Administration degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College.


Virginia Walden Ford, 2008

Mother, Parent Activist, and Respected Leader


Virginia Walden Ford is the founder and executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, an organization whose mission is to organize, educate, and empower parents to make the appropriate educational decisions for their children.  Ford is a national board member and founding member of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) and a board member of the Washington, D.C. Black Alliance for Educational Options chapter.  She serves on the D.C. Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and is a board member of the Education Breakthrough Network.  The daughter of two public school educators in Little Rock, Arkansas, Ford was among a group of 130 black students who were handpicked to desegregate the city’s high schools in the mid-1960s. 


Susan Mitchell, 2007

Pioneer, Guardian, and Founding Board Member


Susan Mitchell is founder and president of School Choice Wisconsin. Mitchell has worked with parents, employers and community members to expand parent choice in Milwaukee and across the country. She formerly was the president of the American Education Reform Council, now the Alliance for School Choice. She served as Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance and Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing.  Mitchell served as special assistant to former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Howard Fuller.  She worked a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.  Mitchell holds Bachelor’s Degree from Lawrence University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


David Brennan, 2006

Catalyst, Entrepreneur, and Founding Board Member


David Brennan is founder and owner of White Hat Management, a major operator of Ohio charter schools.  Brennan, a strong advocate of school choice, was instrumental in initiating the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program in 1995.  As CEO of a manufacturing company, Brennan established learning centers for his employees to overcome education deficits and increase success.  Brennan later created LifeSkills Centers, an alternative high school opportunity for at-risk and drop-out youths to receive high school diplomas.  He has served as a trustee at both of his alma maters, The Ohio State University (1953) and Case Western Reserve School of Law (1957). He has also established law chairs at Case and the University of Akron.  Brennan is a founding board member of the Alliance for School Choice.


John Walton, 2005

Catalyst for School Choice, Gentle Warrior, Lover of Freedom


John Walton, the son of Wal-Mart founder Sam M. Walton, cofounded the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools.  Walton served on the board of directors for Wal-Mart and the Walton Family Foundation.  Walton served as a Green Beret medic in the Vietnam War, where he was awarded the Silver Star for saving the lives of members of his unit while under enemy fire.  He worked as a crop duster and boat builder before he founded True North Partners, a venture capital firm.  In 2005, Walton died in a plane crash while operating a homebuilt aircraft at the age of 58.


Martin and Mae Duggan, 2005

Founders of the Modern School Choice Movement


In April 1959, Mae Duggan wrote a letter to the St. Louis Review on school choice, prompting Mae and Martin Duggan to create the Citizens for Educational Freedom, the nation’s first grassroots school choice organization.  Martin Duggan worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat for 45 years and became the editorial page editor.  Appointed by President Reagan, Duggan was chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on Federal Pay. Duggan is past president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Backstoppers, an organization that supports families of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.  He also served as vice chairman of the Mathews-Dickey Boys Club.  During World War II, Duggan served as a United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant.


Peter Flanigan, 2004

Philanthropist, Visionary, Founding Board Member


Peter Flanigan is an advisor of UBS Securities, an international investment banking firm.  Flanigan has worked for Dillon, Read, & Co., Inc., the Economic Reconstruction Administration, the Council of International Economic Policy.  He served as executive director of volunteers and the deputy campaign manager for the Nixon presidential campaign, and later served as assistant to the President of the United States under President Nixon.  He founded Student Sponsor Partners, a private voucher program which combines tuition support with mentoring, the Center for Education Innovation of the Manhattan Institute, and the Patrons Program, an organization that encourages individuals to support inner-city Catholic schools. Flanigan served as a Navy carrier pilot in World War II.  He graduated from Princeton University.