Building Equity Initiative Overview

The Walton Family Foundation is working to improve K-12 outcomes for all students by ensuring access to high-quality educational options that prepare them for a lifetime of opportunity. The foundation has invested more than $1 billion to date to improve all types of schools — traditional district, public charter and private — and to support innovative organizations that share a common goal: to give all families the ability to choose the best school for their child, regardless of their ZIP code.     

One of the most significant barriers to the growth of high-quality charter schools is identifying and securing facilities. Finding a space where teachers can teach and students can learn is a pre-requisite for every new or expanding charter school — and something the foundation wants to make easier for school leaders.

WFF’S HISTORICAL CHARTER SCHOOL INVESTMENTS

WFF supports the startup of new schools through direct grants to schools and investments in support partners across the United States.  

  • WFF’s first charter school startup grants: 1997
  • WFF’s total charter school investment by 2015: $386 million
  • Total number of charter schools funded by 2015: 2,109
  • Scope of WFF’s charter school funding: The foundation has supported a quarter of the 6,000+ charter schools created nationally. WFF-funded schools now serve about 840,000 students.

WFF’S HISTORICAL K-12 EDUCATION CHARTER SCHOOL FACILITIES INVESTMENTS

WFF helps charter schools secure facilities through grants or investments in facility developers and nonprofit lenders that provide no- or low-interest loans to charter schools.

  • WFF K-12 Education first charter school facilities grant: 2003
  • WFF K-12 Education total charter school facilities grants by 2015: $116 million
  • Total number of students attending school in WFF K-12 Education funded facilities by 2015: 177,000

BUILDING EQUITY INITIATIVE PLAN

  • WFF’s initial commitment: $250 million
  • Anticipated number of charter school students served: 250,000
  • Initial number of cities eligible: Up to 20

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is the Building Equity Initiative?

The Building Equity Initiative is an expansion of the Walton Family Foundation’s work to help public charter schools access capital to secure facilities. Through the initiative, the foundation will develop innovative and affordable ways for high-quality public charter schools to grow and meet their communities’ needs.

By 2027, the initiative will enable high-quality charter schools to serve an additional 250,000 students.

Is this the Walton Family Foundation’s first investment in charter school facilities?

No. Through its K-12 Education program, the foundation has invested $116 million since 2003 to expand access to facilities for public charter schools. To date, the majority of these investments result in low-interest loans to help schools finance private facilities when public facilities or facility funding was not sufficient.

To date, WFF K-12 Education facility grants have enabled 177,000 students to attend high-quality charter schools.

How is this effort unique?

The Building Equity Initiative is the largest philanthropic effort of this size to address the systemic challenges that charter schools face when finding and securing facilities. The initiative will both help individual schools grow to meet demand and identify opportunities to improve policy conditions related to charter school facilities.

Not a one-size-fits-all national effort, the initiative will be customized regionally with support from local education nonprofits. Comprehensive citywide strategies that plan to grow the supply of high-quality charter schools and identify for improved public solutions – including access to unused public space and adequate funding for charter facilities – will be eligible for initiative support.

How will you measure the success of the Building Equity Initiative?

The initiative will be evaluated by:

  1. The number of students served, with the initial goal of helping 250,000 students access the high-quality school of their choice;
  2. the quality of initiative-funded schools, and
  3. the increased affordability of charter facilities in each city. The goal is for initiative funding to make it easier and cheaper for charter school founders to secure capital, get lower interest rates and qualify for adequate levels of funding to finance their facilities.

Where will the Building Equity Initiative help charters obtain facilities?

To start, the initiative will focus on the 17 cities where the foundation currently makes grants to create spaces for students in high-need urban areas.

How will the Building Equity Initiative work for existing facility developers and lenders?

The initiative will increase, not supplant, the capacity of existing organizations so they can serve more students. The initiative will endeavor to do so by providing low-interest capital at an increased scale. Further, the initiative will invest to create new nonprofit organizations supporting charters with facility needs. The goal is to create a bigger network of resources – real estate experts, lenders, financiers, technical assistance providers and more – that charter schools can utilize when selecting facilities. This will make it quicker and easier for schools to secure spaces they need to serve their students.

How will the Building Equity Initiative work for city-based nonprofits?

In select cities across the nation, the foundation will work with leading city education nonprofits to design customized strategies to help alleviate the facilities challenge for charter schools. These efforts will look dramatically different based on the city. For example, in some cities, local nonprofits could use initiative resources to build a school incubator, which would house multiple new schools while they grow to full student enrollment.

How will the Building Equity Initiative work for schools?

The initiative strategy and approach will look very different based on local context. In some cities, for example, initiative resources could be used to construct new buildings or renovate older facilities, which will then be leased to charter schools. The foundation will work with leading city nonprofits to design customized strategies that will have the greatest impact given the local context.

Is the Walton Family Foundation the only Building Equity Initiative funder?

The charter school facilities challenge is massive — it can be measured in the tens of billions of dollars. This is not a problem that the foundation alone can solve, and these funds are only the start of what we hope will be an ambitious effort.

Only one in three states with charter schools provide facilities funding, leaving the overwhelming majority of schools on their own to find the resources to pay for a building. This initiative is only part of the solution. We hope it will attract additional philanthropy, and incentivize public solutions to alleviate the facilities burden that so many charter school leaders face.

Is this Walton Family Foundation investment in addition to the foundation’s five-year $1 billion investment to improve K-12 education, or is it part of that commitment?

This initiative is in addition to the foundation’s five-year commitment to K-12 education. Initiative efforts will complement and enhance the foundation’s existing five-year strategy.

How will the Building Equity Initiative be managed?

The foundation will partner with the highly regarded nonprofit Civic Builders to manage the initiative. Civic Builders has a long track record of successfully securing and financing charter school facilities, enabling thousands of students to attend the charter school of their choice.

What charter schools are eligible for Building Equity Initiative funding?

To start, the foundation will prioritize the 17 cities where it already makes grants to grow great schools. In these cities, initiative funding will be allocated to schools through intermediary organizations, such as nonprofit lenders and developers or local education nonprofits. Qualifications to receive initiative funding will be established in partnership with these national and local nonprofits.