Charter School Growth Fund: Grants for K-12 Education

OVERVIEW: The Charter School Growth Fund has been attracting wealth since it was launched in 2005, and it funnels those dollars into charter management organizations. For charter schools that have shown promising results, CSGF acts as a catalyst, providing the financial support needed to expand through both grants and low-interest loans for a variety of needs.

IP TAKE: For the top-performing charter schools — those with three years of high academic achievement — the CSGF is an invaluable funding source. Although student achievement is the most important grant criteria, grantseekers should also be on solid financial footing, and solid data is key to a successful application.

PROFILE: As stated on its website, the Charter School Growth Fund’s goal is precisely in line with what one would expect based on its name: it “identifies the country’s best charter schools, funds their expansion, and helps to increase their impact.” The fund has received backing from some of the biggest names in education philanthropy, including Gates, Broad, and Carnegie.

The Growth Fund’s impact is indeed widespread, as it offers significant funding to charter schools and networks in the form of multi-year grants and low-interest loans. In a recent year alone, the Fund gave dozens of grants and loans totaling tens of millions of dollars. Awards generally fell between $100,000 and $500,000, though occasionally, the Fund gave awards at the $1 million to $2 million mark.

The Growth Fund’s giving is classified into three categories: 

  • The National Fund goes to “non-profit organizations that operate multiple schools,” that “are opening more schools each year,” and that “are pioneering new ways to personalize learning to improve student outcomes.”
  • Regional funds are directed at charter networks specifically in the state of Florida and the cities of Nashville, TN, Memphis, TN, and New Orleans, LA.
  • The Emerging CMO Fund “is designed to increase the number of excellent charter school networks led by entrepreneurs with backgrounds that are similar to those of the students and families they serve” by giving “support [to] talented entrepreneurs of color who lead high-performing charter schools that have the potential to grow to two to five schools.”

In terms of what makes up its priority charter schools, CSGF states directly that it casts a wide net in terms of geography, pedagogical model, and network size.  What it does want to see, however, are strong results and the potential for scalability. To achieve that end, CSGF works primarily with established networks that have proven academic success, and these schools must work with underserved student populations. A strong emphasis is also placed on leadership and financial stability, and networks with a solid plan for scalability are given priority.

One of the most important qualifications for a CSGF grant is “outstanding” performance. The Fund wants to see strong academic performance over a period of three years before it will even consider a charter school's grant application (rare exceptions may be made for organizations with two years of records). CSGF's measure of performance is largely based on three years of high performance on state or nationally normed testing (or both), though in certain cases standardized test results are not required or can be overcome if they are low. The bottom line: schools that do not have high marks on standardized tests may still qualify for support, but the Fund will expect to see consistent, year-over-year progress and improvement.

The Fund does not have an awards database, but its portfolio page provides a listing of its partners.

CSGF accepts applications throughout the year and funding decisions are made on a rolling basis. The Fund's initial screening process is blind and based on elements such as demographics, academic performance, and school management. Additionally, the school must be in good standing with its authorizer, and the school’s board must support the pursuit of a CSGF partnership.  Before starting an application, be sure to review the Fund’s application process, including its eligibility requirements. Questions can be directed to applications@chartergrowthfund.org.

The application for the Emerging CMO Fund is handled separately. More details about that program can be found here or by emailing emergingcmo@chartergrowthfund.org.

One last note: the Fund’s team is divided up into a relatively large number of people with region-specific responsibilities, so be sure to check out the staff page to get a better sense of who you would most likely be working with.

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