Look in the Mirror, Charter School Growth Fund: You're Bradley's Highest-Funded Grantee

To get a scope of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation’s education strategy, it’s best to look at the Charter School Growth Fund — the foundation’s highest-funded grantee of any program. From 2001–2010, the Foundation awarded a little more than $16.5 million to the Fund, according to a 2011 analysis by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. And it doesn’t look like Bradley is letting up the flow of capital anytime soon.

Last year, the foundation gave $3 million to the Fund — their largest grant total by far. So what insight does their continued support for the Charter School Growth Fund reveal?

Well, for starters, the conservative Bradley Foundation (See Bradley Foundation: Grants for Charter Schools) has a clear commitment to school choice. The foundation was instrumental in advocacy measures to pass a voucher program in Milwaukee, and charter school advocacy consistently ranks in their top grant-making priorities.

But the multi-million-dollar grants also give hints into the types of organizations Bradley likes to work with. Since being founded in 2005, The Fund has acted like a venture capital firm, providing grants and low-interest loans to charter management organizations across the country. Financial support is focused on networks that serve disadvantaged students in low-income neighborhoods, but there’s also a strong emphasis on fiscal responsibility and efficiency.

In a 2006 interview with Philanthropy Magazine, Bradley Vice Presdient for Program Dan Schmidt explained what he liked about the organization:

[Schmidt] is particularly impressed with the Fund’s insistence that its grantees  "explore and resolve fundamental governance, management, operational, and regulatory issues associated with sustained expansion before receiving funds." He adds that the Fund’s "strong sense of mission," its  "clear and well-defined business plan," and the leverage opportunities of its venture-like structure persuaded his foundation’s board to make the grant.

For fundraisers, another point to take away from Bradley’s investment in the Growth Fund is that the foundation isn’t a significant investor in charter management organizations. Last year, Bradley made just one grant to a CMO — Rocketship Education — for an expansion into Milwaukee, but that was an exception to the rule. Whereas the Walton Family Foundation and Doris and Donald Fisher Fund make plenty of direct grants to charter organizations like Knowledge is Power Program schools, it seems Bradley’s approach is much more hands-off.

The foundation is also a major funder of Partners Advancing Values in Education, a local charter schools program that trains leadership and provides funding for the city’s charter schools. From 2001–2010, PAVE received $12 million from the foundation (last year they took a $300,000 grant) which was their second most substantial grantee, behind the Growth Fund, in the decade.

So instead of funneling foundation dollars directly into CMOs, Bradley gives big to local and national non-profits focused on charter school growth financining and training.