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Diane Ravitch's Blog: Carol Burris: How Charter Schools Cashed in on the Paycheck Protection Program

Dr. Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works to strengthen and improve public schools. Nearly 400,000 people in every state support its activities. Burris was a teacher and an award-winning principal in New York State. 

This summer, the Network for Public Education reported that charter schools had received between one and two billion dollars in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Small Business Administration loans. In most cases, these low-interest loans will not have to be paid back, resulting in a windfall for recipients. 

PPP amounts were initially reported in ranges and excluded any grantees that received below $150,000. Thanks to reporters’ persistence, however, we now know the exact amount and the smaller grantees who received PPP.

We matched the amounts with our previously identified group of charter schools and charter chain recipients. In total, those charters received an astounding $1,279,455,958. You can find a complete list of the charter schools and what they got here.

In addition to schools, charter support and advocacy organizations got PPP.  You can find that list here. It includes the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, which bragged that it made sure charter schools were included in PPP. NAPCS took $672,800, while the billionaire-funded California Charter Schools Association cashed in at $1,028,200.

We also scanned the new lists of small grants for charter school entries.  Because there were so many entries, we did a simple search on the words “charter school.”  This resulted in the identification (see here) of an additional $7 million going to charter schools. There is no doubt that a full search would uncover at least four times that amount.

How did the charter sector do?  When you add the pieces together, it adds up to nearly $1.3 billion.

Here are some highlights.

The largest amount ($8,377,100.00) given to a charter school went to Granada Hills High School, once a highly-regarded public school in an affluent area outside of Los Angeles that converted to a charter school.  

The second-largest amount went to Antelope Valley High School, which is “powered by” Learn4Life. Learn4Life is a charter school chain that operates by giving at-risk students worksheets they complete and return to Learn4Life centers often located in strip malls and shopping plazas. Learn4Life is now led by Caprice Young, who previously led the California Charter Schools Association and Magnolia charter schools, connected to the Gulen school chain. The entire Learn4Life chain received over $32 million. 

Finally, schools and nonprofits managed by the for-profit Academica chain received over $28.6 million in PPP.  

Charter schools claim to be public schools. They received public school funding via the CARES Act. Unlike the small businesses that shut down during the pandemic, thus losing their revenue stream, charter schools moved to remote learning, and their public tax dollar income stream continued.

It appears a new round of CARES Act funding is imminent. We will be watching to see if charter schools use their “private” status to cash in again. 

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the Co-Founder and President of the Network for Publi...

Carol C. Burris

Carol Corbett Burris became Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Foundation in August 2015, after serving as principal of South Side High School...