A Private Solution to a Public Problem in Colorado’s Education Sector

Like many states across America, Colorado faced a complex challenge when it came to figuring out how to deliver a high-quality educational experience for as many public school students as possible. The first part of the challenge was finding enough facilities to accommodate the growing demand for public charter schools, both in metropolitan areas and in rural areas. The second part of the challenge was identifying high-quality schools, especially in Denver where about 30% of students scored below their grade level.

 

In response to these two problems a group of local foundations with an interest in charter schools joined together in 2016 to launch Colorado Charter Facility Solutions (CCFS), a non-profit organization with a mission to “provide and facilitate affordable facility solutions that increase the number of high quality public charter school seats for underserved Colorado students.” Many of these foundations, which have historically invested directly in individual charter schools, saw the need for a systemic approach to investing and for technical assistance to charters in planning for new facilities. They have come to rely on CCFS for assistance in determining facility needs, helping to negotiate lease agreements, and in assessing overall affordability that were outside the core area of expertise for most foundations.

 

CCFS has an ambitious goal of creating 10,000 high quality seats over the next 10 years for students in the greatest areas of need. At over 4800 seats, it is already well on its way to meeting this goal. As of 2020, CCFS has issued eight loans to both start-up and established charter schools totaling about $8 million. These loans are usually in a subordinate position to other debt, with the expectation of repayment after two to five years at a 3.5% interest rate. Before receiving a loan, all schools are first evaluated by staff and an outside consultant to make sure the school has all the building blocks of a long-lasting and high-performing school. The evaluation criteria include strong finances, rigorous, research-based curriculum, a system for tracking and reporting on student performance, and a commitment by schools to be accessible to underserved students.

 

Local Colorado foundations provide most of the capital for CCFS loans in the form of program-related investments (PRIs), a type of impact investment favored by foundations. To continue to scale this work and serve more students, CCFS plans to raise capital from a growing pool of impact investors, including community foundations, national foundations, family offices and high-net-worth investors.

For more information, visit https://charterfacilitysolutions.org/