The District of Columbia’s charter public school law was enacted in 1996. Since then its charter sector has grown to 119 charter schools serving 42,400 students in the 2016-17 school year. According to a ranking by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools that measures state laws against its model charter school law, the District of Columbia ranks 18th out of 44 states with a charter school law enacted. Washington, D.C., facilities law provides a per-pupil facilities aid program. The law provides the Public Charter School Credit Enhancement Fund, which provides credit enhancement for the purchase, construction, and/or renovation of facilities for charter schools. The law provides the Direct Loan Fund for Charter School Improvement, which provides flexible loan capital for the construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of charter school facilities.
State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant Award Total: $5.6 million—Fiscal Years 2004 through 2008.
In 1998 the Council of the District of Columbia passed the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula for Public Schools and Public Charter Schools Act, providing charter schools in the District of Columbia with an annual per-pupil allocation, as well as an annual facilities allowance. Historically, the Charter Schools Facilities Allowance was calculated as a rolling average of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) per-pupil facilities expenditures. In FY2009 the Charter Schools Facilities Allowance was decoupled from DCPS per-pupil expenditures. The allowances for FY2009 and FY2010 were $3,109 and $2,800 per pupil, respectively. Since 2011 the amount has remained steady at about $3,000 per pupil with the current per-pupil amount at $3,124.
In addition to the per-pupil allocation, the District of Columbia was one of four jurisdictions selected as part of the first cohort of grantees to receive funding from the State Incentive Grants Program of the U.S. Department of Education (ED), receiving $5.6 million between FY2004 and FY2008. See the U.S. Department of Education section of Federal Initiativesfor more detail on the federal program. This competitive grant program was administered by the Office of Public Charter School Financing and Support within the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. The program was structured to provide funding under two components:
General Facilities Allowance (Component 1)—provided a per-pupil facilities allowance to eligible charter schools based on estimated or actual student enrollment. To be eligible a charter school must have provided evidence that 65% of its student population was eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program.
School Choice (Component 2)—provided an additional per-pupil facilities allowance to eligible charter schools, also based on estimated or actual enrollment. Eligible applicants were charter schools that met the criteria for the General Facilities Allowance that could also show that 25% of their student population resided in areas where schools were identified as in need of improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under No Child Left Behind.
ED Credit Enhancement Award Total: $5.1 million—Fiscal Year 2004
The Office of Public Charter School Financing and Support (OPCSFS) administers programs that offer facilities financing and grant resources to charter schools in the District of Columbia. Current programs that offer facilities financing assistance and grant assistance include the following: the Credit Enhancement Revolving Loan Fund, the Direct Loan Fund, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Facilities Grant, and the Charter School Incubator Initiative. Previous facility funding assistance and grants were provided through the following: the City Build Grant, the Facilities Incentive Grant, the Public Facilities Financing Grant, the Replication and Growth Grant, the Facility Modernization and Expansion Grant, and the SOAR Replication and Growth Grant.
This program was established by the FY2000 District of Columbia Appropriations Act to provide credit enhancement for the purchase, construction, and renovation of facilities for public charter schools. The program offers guarantees or collateral pledges of up to $1 million for two to five years, enabling charter schools with little cash or collateral to obtain affordable financing for their facilities projects. Since inception this fund has provided $32.5 million in credit enhancement to 38 public charter schools for leasehold improvement loans, conventional mortgages, bond financings, and small direct loans, leveraging $354.4 million in additional financing for school facilities. As of April 2016 the available Credit Enhancement Fund balance was $8.5 million.
The District of Columbia’s Direct Loan Fund for Public Charter School Improvement was established in 2003 to provide flexible loan capital for the construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of charter school facilities. Loans are capped at $2 million per school, with interest rates and terms varying by project. These loans are frequently used in conjunction with senior debt in larger projects and may function as gap financing in transactions where little equity is available. To date the fund has disbursed close to $53 million in direct loans to 36 public charter schools, leveraging $325 million in additional financing. As of April 2016 the available Direct Loan Fund balance was $9.9 million.
The Charter School Incubator Initiative (CSII) is a program developed by Building Hope in partnership with the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to provide facility and financial support to start-up and replicating charter schools in Washington, D.C. CSII was funded through a $4 million federal appropriation sub-grant to Building Hope and directs OSSE’s $5.1 million ED credit enhancement grant. Building Hope is responsible for identifying, acquiring, financing, and renovating the incubator sites. Building Hope also manages the day-to-day operations of the incubator sites, which new charter schools can lease as incubator space for one- to three-year periods at below-market rates tied to their facilities funding rather than the actual cost of the facility. Building Hope created a separate 501(c)(3) entity for this initiative. To date CSII has secured more than 785,000 square feet of space to support 24 start-up or expanding charter schools that serve more than 6,800 students in disadvantaged neighborhoods. See the CSII brochure and the Building Hope section of Private Capital Providers for more information.
The City Build Public Charter School Initiative, established in 2004, is a congressionally funded joint education and neighborhood development initiative that promotes community revitalization with a particular emphasis on strengthening public education through charter schools. The program focuses on encouraging community development, promoting strategic neighborhoods, attracting and retaining residents, and creating partnerships between public charter schools and community organizations. Although funds from this program may be used for a variety of purposes, most of the grants awarded to date have been allocated for facilities and expansion projects. The program has awarded $25 million in funding to 34 charter school projects to date, with the last round of funding expended in FY2012. There have been no new awards since FY2012.
The Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act is a federal law that authorizes funding for District of Columbia public charter schools to improve school performance and educational outcomes and to provide facility funding in order to increase the number of high-quality public charter school seats. The OPCSFS office administers these funds. For FY2016 there were five sub-grants including the only one actively dedicated to facilities funding, the Facilities Grant. The Replication and Growth Grant ended in FY2015.
SOAR Facilities Grant (Formerly Investing in Public Facilities Grant)
The Facilities Grant under the SOAR Act began in FY2012 in order to provide high-quality public charter schools with funds to renovate former D.C. public school facilities that are leased from the District or to renovate facilities that are owned by charter schools. Since inception the program has awarded 33 sub-grants totaling $16.4 million. For FY2017, $4 million in allocation is available to eligible applicants.
SOAR Replication and Growth Grant
The OPCSFS made grants for the Replication and Growth Grant under the SOAR Act from FY2012 to FY2015, to support the replication and expansion of new charter schools by funding planning and development of new facilities to increase the number of high-quality seats available. This grant targeted high-performing charter school operators starting new campuses. From FY2012 to FY2015, 36 sub-grants were awarded through this program totaling $3.14 million. This sub-grant is no longer active as of FY2015.
Last Updated: May 2017
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