Don't Forget These Charter School Funders

Charter schools are a growth industry in the world of education grantmaking. Supporters of charters and charter management organizations include some of the biggest names in philanthropy: Gates, Broad, Walton, Arnold, and Dell. With names like these, it is sometimes easy to forget that there are other stars in the charter school funding universe.

The funders listed here may not have the name recognition or draw the kind of publicity of their higher profile counterparts, but charter schools and charter management organizations with new ideas or who are looking to expand would do well to get to know these organizations.

  • Charter School Growth Fund: This organization’s name says it all. For charter school networks with a track record of performance who are looking to expand, CSGF is one of the best friends to have. This funder takes a business-like approach to funding, screening applicants in terms of academic track records and solid financial management before approving funding. Charter schools that do not meet these criteria are well-advised to take their proposals elsewhere. CSGF, launched in 2005, has provided grants and low-interest loans to help charter networks expand. The fund also has helped charter schools with capital funding. CSGF has close ties with other charter school funders, which have provided funding to the organization. Foundations that have supported CSGF include the Gates Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Fisher Fund and the Bradley Foundation.
  • Doris and Donald Fisher Fund: This “small, but sophisticated” funder is a major supporter of charter schools. The fund’s giving averages some $20 million a year. Securing funding from the Fisher Fund, however, can be a challenge, especially for first-time grantseekers. The fund does not have a website, limiting its accessibility. Further, it directs much of its funding toward favored past recipients, such as the KIPP Foundation and the Charter School Growth Fund.
  • Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: This funder limits much of its grantmaking to its home state of Wisconsin, especially the city of Milwaukee. However, it has provided charter school grants to organizations in other states and is a major supporter of the Charter School Growth Fund. 
  • Kern Family Foundation: Like Bradley, Kern is based in Wisconsin. Unlike Bradley, the Kern Foundation aims for more of a nationwide impact in its charter school grantmaking. It is a supporter of the Charter School Growth Fund and funds school choice advocacy and research. Recipients of Kern grants include the pro-voucher and pro-charter school Black Alliance for Educational Options, and the free-market Cato Institute. 
  • Peter and Carmen Lucia Buck Foundation: If you're a charter school organization in New York or Connecticut, get to know this funder, which concentrates its charter school funding in these states. Buck awards about $8 million a year in grants to charter organizations in these states.
  • Robert Woodruff Foundation: Georgia is on the mind of this funder. Woodruff focuses its education funding on this state, with particular emphasis on the city of Atlanta. This funder is noteworthy for providing capital funding for charter schools. This is significant, as charters often do not receive federal or state funding for facilities.
  • Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation: This funder invests in charter schools as a way of transforming educational options in California. The Schwab Foundation supports charter school advocacy groups, charter networks, and projects that promote teacher effectiveness and educational technology.