TITLE: President & CEO
FUNDING AREAS: Charter management organizations, charter schools, elementary and secondary education
CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org; (303) 217-8090
IP TAKE: Hall operates an investment firm approach to charter school funding in underserved populations.
PROFILE: The Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) is a major player on the charter funding scene, and they have plenty of deep foundation pockets to fill their coffers. Founded in 2005 with initial capital from the Fisher Fund and Walton Family Foundation—two of the most prominent charter funders—CSGF’s impact reaches far with a goal to expand and empower networks of charter schools across the country. Just about every mega-rich foundation with interests in expanding charter schools is a major funder, including the Bradley, Dell, Gates and Broad foundations.
It’s simple really. If you’re a charter management organization (CMO) or a charter school ready to scale, CSGF is a gold mine, but there are a few barriers fundraisers should know about.
Kevin Hall is the CSGF's President and CEO, and has led the fund’s investment strategy since 2009. His own education includes a bachelor's degree in political science and economics from Swawthmore College, then an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. But in between those two student experiences, Hall worked on the other side of the desk. Well, okay, first he spent a year as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs, but then he turned that business acumen to the education world, working for two years as Executive Director of Teach For America. In an interesting twist, Hall then spent the a year after his administative work turning to the trenches; he spent that next school year as a 4th grader teacher in the Compton schools of Los Angeles, a notoriously struggling system with an underserved student population.
Hall seems to have spent that year strategically building towards his larger career vision; it's after that he got his M.B.A., which subsequently led to year-long executive roles at McKinsey & Company and infoUSA before co-founding Chancellor Beacon Academies, which operated charter and private schools in several states (though it's no longer in operation).
It was after five years in the administrative charter trenches that Hall began the philanthropic part of his journey. He was named COO of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and served there for the next five and a half years. That's when CSGF came knocking.
It's a mosaic of professional history, and an instructive one. Because since taking over the top spot, Hall has been instrumental in forming CSGF's current funding approach. Beginning in 2010, CSGF re-focused with a new plan to invest $160 million in 40-45 new and existing charter school networks through 2015. Over the last few years, the fund’s measured investment approach has shaken up public education in a major way, and with Hall’s direction, expansion seems to be their biggest priority.
“CMOs have demonstrated that they can create high-quality schools at a fraction of the cost of traditional school districts, but like any growing organization they need capital to expand,” Hall said during a 2011 interview with Education Next. “Until CMOs can benefit from the billions of dollars of school bonds raised by districts, they will need ‘equity-like’ investments from philanthropy in order to expand and effectively serve more students.”
The majority of these “equity-like investments” come in three areas: expansion of existing CMOs, development of new networks, and the creation of new learning models (many of which incorporate “blended learning” and are part of the NextGen funding).
To date, the fund has invested in some of the most promising charter networks, including KIPP (a major Fisher grantee), Rocketship Education, YES Prep and Achievement First. With their roster of investments, it’s clear high-performing networks and charter schools are most likely to receive funding, and that’s the most basic funding hurdle.
In many ways, the CSGF’s operates much like an investment firm. Organizations go through a “rigorous” screening process, and CSGF scrutinizes leadership, financial stability, fundraising capacity and other factors, before moving ahead in the application process. The end result is usually a significant scaling of the charter's operations, with funding coming in the form of grants, low-interest loans, and operational support. Scaling these organizations—hence the “Growth Fund” in their title—has been playing an increasing role in Hall’s strategy, and will likely continue.
Also like an investment firm, Hall has meticulously laid out CSGF's goals and the factors that will lead to their success. As articulated in an extensive interview with the fund itself, Hall stated CSGF—and the education industry's—two main priorities as closing the internal achievement gap between the haves and have-nots within our country while also closing the gap between the U.S. education system and student preparedness with the rest of the world.
As for how to achieve this, Hall laid out a five-pronged approach:
- "Adapting the 'common core' of standards across the country"
- "Transforming our talent pipeline of great educators"
- "Figuring out how to replicate the conditions for innovation and change"
- "To scale what works"
- "To leverage technology to be able to create much more personalized approaches to education"
In a 2011 interview, Hall said, "The scaling of high-performing CMOs provides one of the highest levels of return and leverage for philanthropic funds.” Keep this in mind when you reach out to Hall and CSGF: it seems that they are looking for a really, really solid business plan that returns in spades.