Helping High-Quality Charters Secure Long-Term Homes
Imagine you buy a new home. You make a down payment and secure a bank loan for the rest of the cost. Your upfront contribution to the project — and other facts about your financial prospects — gives the bank confidence that you will honor the loan agreement and make loan payments on time.
Now, imagine that you need a facility for your charter school. You need classrooms, science labs, a multi-purpose room, and other learning spaces. You can’t access a building at no cost (or low cost) because you are not a district school. And even when you can find the perfect facility, you may not have enough resources for a sufficient down payment.
Colorado Charter Facility Solutions is a new nonprofit organization made possible by the Walton Family Foundation’s Building Equity Initiative and a group of local Denver foundations. CCFS was created to make it easier and cheaper for high-quality charter school operators to secure facilities.
Since CCFS’ launch last year, I’ve been working with charter school operators, district leaders, philanthropic partners, and local and national financial institutions to determine how to have the biggest impact in helping charter schools acquire attractive, affordable facilities.
In practice, this could mean many things. If a school is able to afford only a 3% down payment, CCFS may be able to help the school with another 17% for a 20% down payment. CCFS can also attract regional and nonprofit lenders to cover the remaining 80%. A primary goal of CCFS is to keep interest rates low so that schools don’t spend more than 15% of total revenues on facilities. We want the remaining 85% to educate kids, pay teachers and do the other substantive work of running a school.
Denver Public Schools has been one of the best public school districts in the country in terms of its willingness to embrace charter schools as an integral part of the public school district. Because they share facilities with charter schools, this is an ideal location for our work. Seventy percent of charter schools in the city are in Denver Public Schools facilities; however, space is running short.
Only when underperforming or under-enrolled schools close do additional facilities become available for high-quality charter schools. Thus, high-quality charters are left to solve their facility needs on their own.
As a society, we owe all children a high-quality education that helps them reach their potential. That doesn’t just mean paying teachers’ salaries; it also means ensuring that children have access to spaces — from classrooms to science labs to gyms — where they can learn and grow. Our efforts in Denver will enable high-quality schools to provide educational opportunities that make a measurable difference for the students we serve.