We know the barriers facing educators opening new charter schools are innumerable. But we also know that real estate shouldn’t be one of them.
That is why in 2016 we launched the Building Equity Initiative, an unprecedented effort to make it easier and more affordable for public charter schools to find, secure and renovate facilities. To date, thousands of students in 22 schools in 11 states are in new or renovated buildings with support from $200 million in BEI funds.
Last month, we took another important step to alleviate the burdens associated with pursuing a permanent home for charter schools. We announced a new partnership with the Local Initiative Support Corporation to launch a $2 million program to provide technical assistance to an estimated 40 public charter schools as they work in some of the nation’s most economically distressed communities.
These resources—called Spark Opportunity Grants—will help leaders navigate more technical tasks from analyzing the growth trajectory of their school to assessing real estate availability to understanding construction costs. The grants of between $25,000 and $50,000 are available to charter schools of all sizes in all places that have a proven track record of success.
This expertise will be particularly useful to leaders considering opening schools in designated Opportunity Zones. Created by Congress in 2017, Opportunity Zones represent the most significant economic development initiative to emerge from the U.S. government in the past 20 years. The program is structured to increase the flow of resources into the nation’s most economically challenged communities.
Much attention is rightly paid to the potential of this new tool to attract businesses, create jobs and expand affordable housing. But Opportunity Zones also can spur much-needed investment in an even more foundational aspect of a community’s bright future—access to a quality education.
By the numbers, there are more than 8,700 federally designated Opportunity Zones that are home to nearly 35 million Americans and more than 13,530 schools. In these communities, more than seven of every 10 students qualify for free or reduced lunch and educational attainment is lower. The scale of the challenge presents us all with the chance to have real impact.
This work goes right to the heart of the Building Equity Initiative—helping ease the burden of finance and real estate tasks, so education leaders can focus on creating quality schools.
Opportunity Zones are one more way to make it easier, faster and more affordable for charter schools to find and secure facilities, so leaders can focus their time, resources and expertise on a quality education and the economic mobility it makes possible for their students.
I am inspired every day by local educators and community leaders’ determination and innovation in bringing a quality education to more of our kids. The Walton Family Foundation is proud to stand behind their efforts and provide assistance, so they can keep their eyes on that all-important prize—helping more of our kids rise and live their American dream.