Blackstone Valley Prep, a charter school network in northern Rhode Island, serves four communities diverse by race and socioeconomic status.
“That’s at the heart of what we are trying to do — bring families together across lines of difference,” explains founding Head of School Jeremy Chiappetta.
Now one of the highest-performing school networks in Rhode Island, Blackstone Valley Prep has grown from humble beginnings with 76 kindergarteners in a church hall to serving nearly 2,100 K-12 students a decade later.
As their student population grew, so did their need for facilities. But their growth coincided with a statewide moratorium on charter facilities funding.
“For us to grow, we needed to rely on philanthropically-minded partners and our own operating dollars. There was no help coming from the state,” says Jeremy, who for many years was forced to lease space.
That changed in the spring of 2019 when the school received a $16-million loan from the Equitable Facilities Fund (EFF) to acquire a previously leased high school facility.
The low-interest loan will save the school more than $60,000 annually and the process, says Jeremy, has been light years removed from seeking financing from a commercial bank.
“Their motivation is not financial; it’s the students. So, when they give advice, we aren’t second guessing.”
The Equitable Facilities Fund is one of two non-profit loan funds within the Walton Family Foundation's 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 more than 100 schools are in new or renovated schools or have received facilities technical assistance with support from $185 million in BEI funds.
By mid-2020, the Equitable Facilities Fund alone will have committed more than $200 million in low-cost, long-term loans to high-impact schools serving over 25,000 students.
Jeremy and his staff are grateful for the expertise that came along with the resources.
“Both my CFO and I have MBAs, but we aren’t real estate experts. We have a total budget of $30 million,” he says. “For us to be able to do a real estate transaction worth more than half our value in the time period we did it in, I don’t think that happens without EFF.”
Support from the fund has allowed Blackstone Valley Prep to “take control of our own destiny,” Jeremy says.
For the Rhode Island communities they serve, the savings translate into more resources for tutoring, social and emotional support and academic interventions and school supplies.