Press Release

Walton Family Foundation Announces the Building Equity Initiative to Help Charter Schools Access Facilities

The Initiative will enable at least 250,000 additional students to enroll in high-quality charter schools by 2027

NASHVILLE, Tenn., June 28, 2016 – To meet growing demand for high-quality public school options, the Walton Family Foundation today announced the $250 million Building Equity Initiative, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit effort to provide charter schools with access to capital to create and expand facilities. Currently only one in three states with charter schools provide public funding for facilities, and opportunities to share space with district schools are limited in most cities. 

To start, the initiative will focus on up to 20 cities to help create spaces for students to attend school in high-need urban areas. By 2027, the initiative will help public charter schools serve at least 250,000 more students across the nation. 

“Before opening their doors, charter schools must find suitable and affordable spaces where teachers can teach and children can learn. In many cities, this is the biggest barrier to creating high-quality educational options for children and families,” said Marc Sternberg, the director of the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 Education Program. “The Building Equity Initiative intends to level the capital and policy barriers that prevent charter schools from growing to meet demand from families and communities.”

The Building Equity Initiative will provide low-interest loans to national and regional not-for-profit lenders, which will help finance facilities for new and growing high-quality charter schools. It will also create a bigger network of resources – real estate experts, lenders, financiers, technical assistance providers and more – that charter schools can utilize when finding and securing facilities. 

Charter schools often struggle to access the capital needed to secure, build or renovate facilities because traditional lenders see them as unproven investments, preventing them from opening or growing to meet demand.  These philanthropic resources will ideally make it quicker and easier for charter schools to secure additional financing, and incentivize government and private lenders to create more equitable policies. 

"One of the biggest obstacles for charter schools is the lack of great, permanent facilities,” Harlem Children’s Zone President Geoffrey Canada said. "This grant program is terrific because it will allow top charter schools to focus entirely on teaching children and remove the challenges of finding space or educating children in a building that is poorly designed."

With 600,000 students on waiting lists to attend public charter schools, the Building Equity Initiative will help schools grow to meet the demand from families.

"This initiative is a crucial catalyst for change, leading the way for policymakers and other foundations to address the charter school movement's challenges with facilities finance,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Lack of access to facilities finance is the single biggest barrier to opening the door to more high-quality charter schools in most cities across the United States.” 

The foundation will partner with Civic Builders, a highly regarded nonprofit charter facilities developer to manage the Building Equity Initiative. "For over a decade, Civic Builders' nonprofit mission has been to help charter leaders navigate the challenges in finding and financing school facilities,” Civic Builders CEO David Umansky said. “We are excited to be a partner in this unprecedented philanthropic investment in charter school facilities. The initiative represents the opportunity to expand what's working and support new ideas to ensure more students have access to high-quality school choices."

When Richard Berlin, executive director of Harlem RBI and DREAM Charter School, set out to build the first new public school in East Harlem in 47 years, he worked with seven different city agencies and raised funding from more than 500 individuals or institutions and 12 lenders. “As a school leader, I had to become a real estate developer, construction manager and financing expert,” said Berlin. “This initiative will make it easier for educators like me to access capital and finance facilities so we can get back to the hard and vital work of educating students.”

The foundation will measure the Building Equity Initiative based on the number of students its schools serve, the quality of initiative-funded schools and the increased accessibility and affordability of capital to finance charter school facilities.

“I applaud the Walton Family Foundation for developing this innovative solution that will enable high-quality schools to secure the spaces they need and deserve,” said Matt Onek, CEO of Mission Investors Exchange. “The Building Equity Initiative should attract other foundations, as well as policymakers and commercial banks, to take on this important challenge. This initiative and others like it demonstrate how foundations are using no-interest loans and other innovative financing mechanisms to drive critical education improvements.”

The initiative builds on the foundation’s history of support for charter school facilities. Through its K-12 education efforts, the foundation has given $116 million to help high-quality charter schools access facilities since 2003. 

About The Walton Family Foundation
For nearly three decades, the Walton Family Foundation has continued the philanthropic vision begun by Sam and Helen Walton. Their legacy is more important than ever as the foundation accelerates efforts to improve K-12 education for all students in America, to protect rivers and oceans and the communities they support, and to give back to the region that first gave Sam and Helen Walton opportunity. In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation awarded grants totaling nearly $375 million. Learn more at www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org.