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Walton Family Foundation Surpasses $300 Million in Startup Investments; Expands Parental Choice through New, High-Quality Charter Schools

January 8, 2013
Demand for high-quality school options leads largest private funder of charter school startups to support the creation of 1,437 schools since 1997

BENTONVILLE, Ark., Jan. 8, 2013 -- Today the largest private funder of charter school startups announced that it has surpassed $300 million invested to expand parent choice by increasing the number of new, high-quality school options. Investments by the Walton Family Foundation have supported the creation of 1,437 schools since 1997. This milestone is driven by nearly $29 million in startup investments in 2012, supporting 111 new schools that will open in the coming years. The foundation invests in programs and organizations that expand parental choice and equal opportunity in education.

Startup grants have helped the charter school movement grow to serve more than two million students in 5,600 schools across the United States. There are an additional 610,000 students on waiting lists to attend the charter school of their choice. The majority of recent startup grants are focused in the foundation's 16 investment sites, specifically in school districts that serve a large percentage of underserved communities with a sizeable number of low-performing schools. The foundation also provides start-up funding to private schools that are serving students on publicly funded vouchers and tax credit scholarships across those 16 investment sites.

"High-performing public charter schools are growing rapidly to meet the demands of families across the United States," said Ed Kirby, deputy director of the foundation's K-12 Education Reform Focus Area. "The charter school movement is a dramatic example of how we can redefine American public education as a choice-based system in which parents are directly empowered to choose from a growing field of new, high-quality school options. Much like publicly funded vouchers, digital learning options and traditional school system choice programs, charter schools are helping set the standard for choice-based education reform. "

According to a 2012 foundation analysis of student proficiency rates in the foundation's 16 investment sites, students in foundation-funded public charter schools had higher average levels of achievement than traditional public schools in 14 regions. Students in foundation-funded public charter schools also had levels of achievement that were the same as or higher than students in public charter schools that were not funded by the foundation in 13 sites. The comparison of foundation-funded charter schools to charter schools not funded by the foundation cannot be made in the Albany, NY investment site because the foundation has provided funding to every public charter school with data available.

The foundation invests directly in both the Charter School Growth Fund and KIPP to help their affiliated charter management organizations replicate schools. In 2012, the foundation invested $40 million and $12.6 million to expand successful CSGF and KIPP schools, respectively. In addition to supporting successful charter management organizations as they replicate and expand, with more than half of all foundation startup grants went to single-site schools in 2012.

"With thousands of families across the country demanding the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice, startup funding for high-quality charter schools is more important than ever," said Nina S. Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Private funders have been instrumental to charter school growth, but federal, state and local legislative bodies must also respond by investing a larger percentage of public education dollars to support the opening of new, high-quality charter schools to meet the demands of the families they serve."

In 2012, the investment site with the largest amount of startup funding was Chicago, where 13 new schools received more than $3.8 million to open in the coming years. Historically, charter schools have garnered the most foundation support in Los Angeles, as 135 schools have received nearly $31 million to serve families in the region. There are nearly 100,000 students enrolled in charter schools in Los Angeles.

In order to qualify for a startup grant, school operators must be granted permission to open their school by an approved authorizing body. They are then reviewed by local committees comprised of community members and foundation staff. Applicants that meet the foundation's quality threshold are provided up to $250,000 in operational and planning support prior to opening and throughout its first year.