By KAREN PARKER | County Line Publisher

Has the Wal-Marting of America been good or bad for the average citizen? Certainly we all like lower prices and one-stop shopping. But with Wal-Mart’s dominance, the mom-and-pop stores that catered to the family’s need for clothing, shoes, household appliances, books and hardware disappeared. In their place, Main Street filled up with tattoo parlors, dental offices and insurance agencies.

With most of that market in the Wal-Mart grip, the next world to conquer was groceries, which the company did with a vengeance with its superstores. Now most grocery shoppers in small towns must be content with a Wal-Mart and possibly one locally owned grocery that is hanging on for dear life.

Are there more worlds to conquer? Oh, yeah! Where do Americans plunk a major slice of their income pie? Medical care!

If you loved toys that break before they are out of the box and clothing made of material so thin you could read a newspaper through it, then you will love Wal-Mart’s medical care, coming soon to a store near you.

Actually, it’s already here. Wal-Mart now offers primary medical service care at five locations in Texas and South Carolina and plans to add another six by the end of the year. If things go according to plan, retail clinics will expand throughout the company’s chain of stores over the next five to seven years.

Wal-Mart is already the fourth-largest retail pharmacy in the country. But what an opportunity! Wal-Mart could funnel patients to its pharmacies, plus, while they wait, they could amuse themselves by wandering the aisles and filling their carts with stuff they didn’t know they needed.

I have become accustomed to Wal-Mart elbowing nearly every retail sector aside, from auto repair to zebra reconditioning, but an email the other day reminded me that the monster chain’s influence extends far beyond even that.

The email was a bland, blah-blah announcement of an appointment to an organization I had never heard of and had no local connection. It was the kind of email that usually is sent directly to the trash without a second glance.

But the name of the organization caught my eye. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is based in Milwaukee. Who doesn’t love law and liberty? Although, when you think about it, law actually curtails liberty. I guess the ultimate libertarian would prefer no government and no law at all.

According to the press release, WILL recently hired Martin Lucken to head its “education reform program.”

It went on to say, “Marty will be working on comprehensive, timely policy studies and reports on Wisconsin’s school choice program and charter schools.”

Then I got curious. What is WILL? It turns out that WILL is a relatively young organization established in 2011 by Rick Esenberg, a Marquette law school professor. WILL is a conservative, libertarian law firm that you might someday see pop up in a school district near you. In its short life, the group has developed a reputation for tackling school boards and other public entities throughout the state.

Elected governmental boards are notoriously shy of incurring legal costs. But WILL has entered the fray on a range of cases, from Act 10, the legislation that curtailed collective bargaining in Wisconsin for most public sector workers, to voter identification, to the proposed Milwaukee streetcar project. In each case, the institute took the conservative side on the issue.

But going to court costs money, so where does WILL get its dough? None other then our very own Milwaukee-based Lynne and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funds the nonprofit organization. While the media concentrates on the Koch brothers and Richard Scaife, the Bradley Foundation has quietly pumped nearly as much money into conservative causes as would seven Koch and Scaife foundations, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“With more than $600 million in assets, the Bradley Foundation provides a cornerstone for the conservative movement in Wisconsin and across America.┬áIt has been the financial backer behind public policy experiments that started in the state and spread across the nation – including welfare reform, public vouchers for private schools and, this year, cutbacks in public employee benefits and collective bargaining,” according to the Journal-Sentinel.

Recently the Bradley Foundation dumped $31 million into organizations and individuals who support private school vouchers.

But back to the press release from WILL about its new employee who will be charged with education reform issues. Guess who funded his job? The Walton Family Foundation, and that’s not John Boy from cable reruns.

I hate to be paranoid, but you don’t think that Wal-Mart is hankering to expand its reach into education, do you? We know from private universities such as the University of Phoenix and others that the private sector can make big money in education.

Whether you favor vouchers or not, you should be uneasy when huge corporations based outside of the state spend a lot of money to influence the education policy in Wisconsin. Do they really care deeply about the quality of education, or is their reason more closely aligned with self-interest?

Wisconsin has always been proud of its local control of schools. Keeping that control in the future may turn out to be a far greater challenge than would simply keeping the Department of Public Instruction at bay.