Eight of the District’s 60 public charter schools raised nearly 75 percent of all charitable funds that went to such schools in the city between 2012 and 2014, highlighting a serious inequity between schools that raised millions of dollars and many that raised little or none.
Just three public charter schools — KIPP DC, Maya Angelou and E.L. Haynes — reported nearly half of all fundraising dollars that went to the city’s charter schools over the three-year period, according to the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s most recent financial audit. In total, those three schools combined averaged $14.5 million in donations each year from 2012 to 2014; the average annual donations for all 60 charter schools over that time frame was $29 million.
Many leaders of charter schools see fundraising as an important way to advance their missions, charitable dollars being a key way to bolster their budgets as they work to build adequate school facilities and offer competitive teacher salaries. But records show a significant inequity in how much the city’s charters receive from donors.
Although seven schools reported at least $1 million in donations in fiscal 2014, at least 20 schools reported less than $100,000. The charter schools reporting income range from small, individual schools to large networks serving thousands of students. Some charter organizations have senior leadership positions or entire teams dedicated to fundraising.
Ramona Edelin, executive director of the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, said that there is a limited number of national funders investing in charter schools and that they tend to prefer a certain kind of school with a strong focus on college preparation.
“It’s ironic that the rallying cry is that ‘One size doesn’t fit all’ and that’s why we need charter schools, but funders are interested in one kind of school,” Edelin said.
A University of Arkansas study found a “highly skewed distribution” of charter school funding more broadly, with 95 percent of all recorded charter school philanthropy in 15 states going to schools that enrolled just one-third of all charter students. At the same time, more than a third of charter schools reported no philanthropic support of any kind.
Charter schools, which serve 44 percent of public school students in the District, receive the same per-pupil funding as traditional schools as well as a per-student facilities allowance of about $3,100. But charter advocates say those taxpayer dollars are stretched thin and don’t equate to the same kind of funding the D.C. Public Schools system receives.
Philanthropic funds made up 6 percent of total revenue for the city’s public charter schools in 2014, up from about 4 percent the year before. That increase was almost entirely attributable to significant bumps at KIPP DC and Maya Angelou.
KIPP DC, a high-performing network that operates numerous schools in the District, reported $16.8 million in philanthropic revenue during fiscal 2014 — equivalent to more than $4,600 per student. KIPP DC officials said the figure is misleading because $7.4 million of that reflects the net value of a school building it acquired from the former Arts and Technology Public Charter School.
Allison Fansler, president and chief operating officer of KIPP DC, said in an e-mail that the remaining funds, about $9.5 million, are helping KIPP expand into new facilities and develop a “KIPP Through College” program that supports about 1,000 alumni as well as a residency program that is training almost 100 new teachers. More than half of that comes from grants or funds that are slated to be used over several years, she said.
“Our fundraising efforts have been critical to our growth over the past 15 years,” she said.
Some of its major funders included CityBridge Foundation, Venture Philanthropy Partners, NewSchools Venture Fund, the Marriott Foundation and the Clark Charitable Foundation.
Charter board officials said that schools self-report their philanthropic revenue, which can include donations — both in-kind and cash — from individuals, corporations or foundations.
Tracking philanthropic spending is difficult, in part because there is a time lag in how nonprofit organizations, including foundations and most public charter schools, report financial information and when tax forms become publicly available. Foundations are required to report the grants, but charter schools do not have to report the origins of their private funding.
A DC Fiscal Policy Institute report recommended that the charter board include additional information to make it clearer whether donations are from private foundation grants, parent fees or PTA fundraising.
Maya Angelou Public Charter School, which operates alternative schools for more than 500 students, reported $9.1 million in charitable revenue in fiscal 2014, up from $454,000 the year before. School spokeswoman Leah Lamb said that the multimillion-dollar revenue came from a multiyear capital campaign by the school’s See Forever Foundation. The funds were used in 2014 and 2015 to make major renovations to one of the Maya Angelou campuses.
The District has been a magnet for philanthropy since 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took control of the city’s schools and appointed Michelle A. Rhee as D.C. Public Schools chancellor. Rhee brought national attention to reform efforts in the city and attracted unprecedented levels of philanthropic support for major changes to the teachers contract.
By 2010, the city had attracted more grant funding than any other school district in the country, earning the equivalent of $704 per pupil that year, according to an analysis by two Michigan State University professors that looked at grant-making by the 15 largest philanthropies that had invested in kindergarten through 12th-grade education that year.
The $31 million in grants that the report traced to the District in 2010 included many grants to support charter schools as well as major donations to support changes to the traditional school system, including the introduction of an evaluation system tied to teacher raises and bonuses.