Trust our communities with their schools

Charter School Facility Center Advisory Board

The last 25 years have changed the way we think about our public schools. Families were once told where to send their children. Today, we see a variety of options for families – they have their traditional district community schools for whom the vast majority of families attend. Nowadays, we also have community-wide, open-enrollment schools, specialized schools (such as magnet schools, STEM schools and schools for the arts), schools within schools, and open-enrollment, charter schools. This variety has changed the landscape of what communities need in school buildings and their locations throughout our neighborhoods. For cities and towns with growing populations, there is simply the need for more school buildings . For cities and towns with declining student enrollment, there is the need to more effectively manage school buildings.

The education community can learn from other social sectors about how to plan, identify, finance, and preserve options for these buildings. The concept of land trusts and real estate trusts has been used by cities for centuries for health care, affordable housing, open space, and higher education. Pathway 2 Tomorrow recently published the Center on  Reinventing Public Education’s (CRPE) report, A More Enterprising Approach: How Public Trusts Can Help Address School Facility Challenges, that highlights ways cities can manage school properties through a citywide real estate trust. These trusts can be independent agencies or non-profits that manage a city’s educational facilities tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that community schools can afford to stay in the communities they serve; that these schools can focus on serving the young people in communities.

The paper builds upon two other reports from earlier this year which show how school buildings can be built, financed, and managed so that both schools and communities thrive. The research team at Public Impact, in their paper, Charter School Facility IncubatorsAn Innovative Approach to Charter School Facilities, looked at one non-profit in Washington, DC that acts as an incubator to help start new schools that would not be able to secure their own building. This entrepreneurial model is borrowed from the technology sector where so many tech start-ups begin instead of the garages of the 80’s or working out of a successful tech company that itself was a start-up a few years earlier. Several schools have successfully started and are serving young people in their community through this innovative program.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in their paper, Community Land Trusts and Charter Schools, looked at how Community Land Trusts can support individual schools like how they have ensured affordable housing for decades. These entities are managed by the community and the community can decide who should use the property—whether that is housing, health and wellness, education, or other critical hallmark of communities. This is a throwback to the way education decisions were made in the beginning of our country.

This spectrum of trusts shows that the new paradigm of public school choices, which has a variety of school building models, can be managed very differently than the old school district model of yesterday. Empowering communities with the decisions can provide more transparency and accountability to the way school buildings are managed and built, and ultimately how to use limited space within growing cities for the needs of the community.

Too many old empty buildings sit empty, mired in politics. Too many community-focused organizations spend their limited dollars on buildings and real estate, instead of being able to focus on the community.

It’s time to let the community members be involved in the decisions about their community needs, from housing, to health, to education. Let’s trust them with school building trusts.


Add new comment

Facility Funding: States Turn to Moral Obligation Bonds For Charter Schools

Since the early 1970s, moral obligation bonds have been used to finance housing, higher education facilities, hospitals, corrections facilities, and more. 

As more charter schools access the bond market to finance their facilities, the interest they pay is funded by a school’s operating costs (which are provided through taxpayer dollars), meaning every increase in interest represents fewer dollars available for textbooks, teacher salaries, and field trips. As states seek to use their education budgets more efficiently, moral obligation bonds are an attractive option to lower interest rates without overburdening the state’s balance sheet.

Want to learn more?  Click here for a collection of resources on moral obligation bonds. 

Add new comment

Even Celebrities have Facility Woes!


"The facilities challenges for charter schools are so real that even well-connected celebrities can’t avoid the struggle" says Kim McCabe about rapper Common's challenges with trying to find a suitable building to house his new school.  Check out the full write up below. 

Add new comment

‘Tis the season for "FRED" Clause-a career that makes a difference!

School Christmas Ornament

Do you remember the 2007 Vince Vaughn movie about Santa’s brother who was never able to measure up to his saintly sibling’s career? Do you know someone who feels like they need to find meaning in their work, and not just to measure up to their sibling? We’re entering the season when people are waiting for their bonuses and then they promise that they’ll look for a new job – one that focuses on helping others – and not just helping others make more money.

There are numerous ways to find more meaning in the work you do AND get involved in social enterprises that can take advantage of your financial or real estate skills. You can succeed in real estate finance AND make a difference in the world. It’s no longer an ‘OR’ decision. You may not make a million dollars a year, but you don’t have to eat ramen noodles every day (unless you like to).

One of those people keynoted the NI19 conference. Anand Kesavan discussed his career path with the Walton Family Foundation’ Romy Drucker at the Friday keynote. He described how he was once an investment banker but wanted to spend his time working on improving education. He changed careers and worked as a CFO for a charter school, and then as a venture philanthropist, and finally started the Equitable Facility Fund. He explained how he created a new $600 million fund modeled after state financing programs. He has developed a world-class loan fund, raised capital from the tax-exempt bond market, and is designing an impact investing fund. This social impact fund is likely one of the top 5 true impact investing funds.

Anand is not the only one to have found a career in the education sector. There are many others who work in finance to fund charter schools with affordable debt and equity. There are others who are socially motivated real estate developers building schools in communities that have been overlooked by traditional investors. There are others who are policy advocates leveraging state and federal programs to serve all children. These people find their mission in their work to expand quality educational options for students who are often left behind. Through their efforts, more students have the chance for a quality education and can break the cycle of poverty.

If you are interested in following these paths, there are plenty of options. You could join a school district’s real estate team. Or you could join a charter school’s team, one that is likely smaller, more creative, and focused predominantly on lower income children. These groups are looking for people who may never have thought about using their Financing, Real Estate, and Development (FRED) skills.

There are also ways to design your own career path. Many jobs are not found by replying to a job description – they are created with you in mind. For example, we are pleased to announce the Charter Facility Fellowship, a new rotating management program with select finance and real estate organizations. We can work with you to tailor the rotation program to fit your career plans. We can also help create a position or an internship at a leading charter finance organization. It’s all free.

Take charge of your career and let’s design the right path for you. If you want to know more, contact us or look at some of the sample job descriptions listed here at the Charter School Facility Center.

Then you can show up your brother who’s always bragging about how many toys he can deliver in one night.

Add new comment

Charter Schools in Opportunity Zones

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created Opportunity Zones (“OZ”), which provide tax incentives for investment in designated census tracts. Since then, there has been a lot of buzz about the potential for Opportunity Zone investments to accelerate the charter school movement across the country. There are 8,700 Opportunity Zones –and while many have charter schools, approximately 70 percent of them are charter school deserts, according to Education Next. This year saw the very first OZ-funded project that included a charter school come to market. Zeta Charter School (Zeta) plans to open its South Bronx campus for the 2020-2021 school year in a multi-use development, conceived and led by New York developer AB Capstone and financed by Starwood Capital’s new OZ investment program. Zeta’s General Counsel, Jessie Ferguson, explains that educating the investor community about financial and operating risks of the charter school industry was key to getting the deal done. With the potential for charter school growth in OZs, educating additional OZ investors could spur more enthusiasm for investing in and including charter schools in OZ development.

Educating the OZ Investor Community

Even a quarter century into the movement, charter schools are still largely misunderstood. Capital providers such as commercial banks and bond market investors have taken to the industry relatively cautiously, often raising concerns about the associated risk of charter renewal periods that occur within a financing term. That said, the historical default rate of charter schools is worthy of envy. While nearly 50 percent of all start-up businesses do not make it to a fourth year of operation, the majority charter schools do. In fact, most charter schools in existence today have received at least one charter renewal, providing strong evidence that their operations have stabilized. Ferguson pointedly asked, “Which would you rather have as an anchor tenant – a start-up restaurant or a charter school?”

A social-minded developer looking for a strong anchor tenant and a motivated OZ investor were key to making the project work for Zeta. “There were no guidelines or regulations out on Opportunity Zones yet when we first identified that the site was located in an Opportunity Zone,” says Ferguson. Nevertheless, the team blazed a trail through early development and lease negotiations with the OZ funding top of mind. While the school was not privy to detailed terms of the OZ investment, Ferguson is convinced that an affordable lease would not have been possible without it.

The mixed-use approach to the South Bronx project also helped assuage underwriting risk concerns for the investor. The community and amenities within the project will be beneficial to the school too: potential tenants include restaurants and coffee shops that will cater to teachers, parents and families, as well as a nonprofit organization aligned with Zeta’s mission. Another multi-family housing development will go up across the street from the school’s campus as well. There is no doubt that the presence of a quality school will serve a critical role in the long-term economic and social health of the community.

Growing Enthusiasm for an OZ Impact on Charter School Growth

Ron Beit sees a lot of room for OZ fund investors to help solve the facilities challenge for charter schools. Beit, CEO of RBH Group, recently completed Teachers Village, a $150 million mixed-use development project in downtown Newark, NJ, that is home to three charter schools, 203 units of affordable housing for teachers, 18 retail stores and an early childhood center. His charter school development experience predates Teachers Village. His first school development was KIPP Academy in Newark, completed in 2009. Now RBH Group has another eight Teachers Village-type projects in major metro areas planned across the country over the next 12-24 months.

Mr. Beit’s original vision with these projects was to provide affordable workforce housing to teachers along with educational offerings to create a unique community and high quality of life. The premise was that with such a community, teachers would be the “first movers in the emerging markets of neglected urban areas.” His firm began assembling parcels of property in 2005 and had several projects in the pipeline in what ultimately became “Opportunity Zones” by the time the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was passed. As Beit says, “Teachers Village was born in what was the predecessor of Opportunity Zones.” Although this pipeline of projects would have been financeable prior to the Act, the serendipitous timing of the new legislation will create, by definition, long-term equity sources from a cohort of investors that prior to the Act would not have spent the time to understand the complexity of these projects. He calls the incentive for investors to take the time to understand projects in many areas that would otherwise have been ignored, “one of the greatest benefits of the Opportunity Zones”.

Thus far, OZ fund investors are focusing almost entirely on tier one projects in tier one markets – projects that would have otherwise been financed through conventional sources. But Beit expects that to change in time. The projects currently under finance were already underway within an OZ, but once they are exhausted he says that, “There will be many years of Opportunity Zone financing and charter schools are a natural fit for Opportunity Zone fund investors.” The fundamental economic nature of primary and secondary education and the 10+ year investment horizon of OZ fund investors are what make the pairing especially attractive. And, over time, more equity capital seeking a limited number of projects in these focused geographic areas should put downward pressure on the cost of this capital further facilitating the construction of schools.

What’s Next?

Of course, how and when OZ fund investors turn their attention to single-use charter school projects is a question that remains to be answered. Perhaps one of the more important factors will be informing investors of a charter school project. The first step may be the creation of a ‘marketplace’ for these investors to easily find viable charter school development projects. School leaders can reasonably determine whether a site is located in an OZ through an interactive map hosted by The Opportunity Exchange website (www.the The Exchange also provides investors and charter schools with opportunities to identify potential projects and provides a listing of projects in certain cities.

The second step will be for leaders in the charter school movement to educate the OZ investor community about the relative safety and soundness of investing in charter schools. The leadership team at Zeta learned first-hand that the school has a role in attracting and educating investors. Simultaneously, charter school leaders will need to learn more about potential OZs can have to positively impact school financing. Just because an investment qualifies for OZ tax incentives, does not mean it is the best option for the school. There are many details to understand in advance, including the refinancing of the OZ investments 10 years from now. There is a need to develop resources that accurately assess the pros and cons of OZ fund investor financed facilities in contrast to other facility alternatives.

Check out our webinar for more information on Opportunity Zones. 

Add new comment

New Charter School Facility Center Report Highlights Disparity in Charter School Facility Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the Charter School Facility Center at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) released State Policy Snapshot: Facilities Funding for Public Charter Schools, a new report that looks at how states are enacting policies to help offset the cost of leasing, purchasing, and maintaining charter school facilities.

The report provides a snapshot of the 31 jurisdictions that have enacted at least one of the following five charter school facilities funding policies:

  • Providing a per-pupil facilities allowance to charter schools (18 states)
  • Creating a charter school facility grant program (15 states)
  • Ensuring that charter schools have equal access to all existing state facilities programs and revenues for district-run public schools in a state (11 states)
  • Providing a charter school facility loan program (14 states)
  • Providing charter schools with access to local property tax dollars generated for facilities (five states)

“Access to adequate facilities is the number one hurdle for charter school growth, as well as to providing the best educational setting for students," said Charter School Facility Center managing director, Mark Medema. “This report provides a comprehensive overview of the charter school facilities environment across the country and shines a light on where states need to do more to help charter schools meet their facility needs.”

The report found that out of the 45 jurisdictions that have charter school laws, 31 have at least one charter school facilities funding policy in place. Colorado, New Mexico, and Ohio lead the states, with each adopting four of the policies. Even within the five categories analyzed, policies vary widely. The report provides a state-by-state overview of charter school facilities funding laws that illustrate the multitude of ways in which states have addressed charter school facility funding issues. 

“As thousands of charter school leaders and advocates grapple with securing facilities, this report can spark conversations about how states can better support charter school facility funding,” said National Alliance senior vice president of state advocacy and support, Todd Ziebarth. “Since all charter schools are public schools, we hope the report will spur states to more equitably support the facilities needs of charter school students.”

About the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter sector. For more information, please visit

About the Charter School Facility Center A project of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Charter School Facility Center is the first-ever entity solely dedicated to helping public charter schools access better and more affordable facilities and facility financing.

Add new comment

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Charter School Meetings

The USDA’s Community Facilities Programs offers direct loans, loan guarantees, and grants to develop or improve essential public services and facilities in communities across rural America, including charter schools. Over the past 10 years, nearly 100 charter schools have accessed over $500 million in USDA funding and the Charter School Facility Center is working to grow that number by increasing information and access to the funding.

Following a successful April launch meeting in Lansing, MI, the Charter School Facility Center sponsored a meeting in Sacramento on Charter Schools and USDA Financing on May 9. Held in conjunction with the California Charter Schools Association and Momentum Strategy & Research, the event brought together key California stakeholders well-positioned to improve opportunities for California charter schools via USDA financing. The event opened with the latest findings from Momentum’s ongoing research into the past decade of USDA’s charter school financing (Did you know that 50% of all loans are made in just three states?). USDA officials from DC and CA presented current info about their programs and lending opportunities while CCSA presented an update on California charter schools and facilities challenges. The resulting discussion explored the challenges that have prevented more widespread use of USDA financing in California and developed ideas for moving forward and improving access.

A state meeting was held on June 4 in Austin, TX, and an information session will be held at the National Charter Schools Conference.

Add new comment

National Alliance Receives Charter Schools Program National Dissemination Grant to Establish the Charter School Facility Center

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, September 28, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement awarded the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools a $2.4 million grant over three years to establish the Charter School Facility Center (CSFC), the first-ever entity solely dedicated to helping public charter schools access better and more affordable facilities and facility financing.

There are an estimated 5 million additional students that would attend a charter school if they had access to one today, but current charter school supply can't keep pace with demand. One key reason is lack of access to facilities. While district schools have access to many options for financing, renovation, and construction of school buildings, charter schools cannot access those financing mechanisms to get the facilities they need to open, grow, and expand.

“At a time when demand for charter schools is increasing, lack of access to affordable, suitable facilities is our biggest challenge," said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Studies show that nearly one-in-five schools were forced to delay their opening by a year or more due to facilities related issues. The Charter School Facility Center is a critical step to addressing this problem and ensuring all students have access to a high-quality public-school building.”

The CSFC will capture and share existing best practices for improving and funding facilities for charter schools, and will develop new, innovative solutions to address this challenge. Among other activities, the CSFC will create a national advisory board of industry leaders to improve the collection of existing best practice resources and identify new ideas that merit wide dissemination. In addition, the CSFC will support discrete projects to address specific needs, such as acquiring affordable funding for rural facilities.

The National Alliance looks forward to tackling this work with our partners and leaders in the field including the Tennessee Charter School Center (TCSC) and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution. TCSC will support local capacity building through technical assistance and LISC will build on their online research portal, SchoolBuild, which provides critical data on charter school facility transactions and guides schools through the facility development process from start to finish.

Add new comment