Low-income students need more than a good education
The education-focused CDFI takes a comprehensive approach, ranging from funds to upgrade school facilities to workforce development initiatives for parents.
According to a EdBuild report.
“Students of color and low-income students don’t have the opportunities; they don’t get the funding, they don’t get the quality of education they deserve,” says Will Robison, Director of National Education at Capital Impact Partners (CIP), a 40-year-old CDFI that focuses on educational and other programs nationwide. “We try to break down that barrier and help them get what they deserve.”
Part of CPI’s mission is to help fund schools that provide a high quality education to these underserved students. CDFI works on programs supporting early childhood education, charter schools, and workforce training.
“There is also the benefit to the community around them, where parents – when their children have an early education – can focus more on their careers and their own education whenever their children are properly supervised and taught,” Robison says. “We see this as a benefit for the children who participate in the programs, and we also see a benefit for their families.”
An example is the Briya Public Charter School in Washington, DC, which features a two-generation educational model. Parents can study English, digital literacy and parenting, while their children receive early education. The school also offers workforce development programs. CIP has helped the charter school secure over $34 million in tax credits for the new market.
Briya is also a partner of Mary’s Center, a federally licensed on-site health center that provides medical, dental, and behavioral health services, as well as educational and social services. Families can also access the special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
“What excites us about projects like this is that we can have that generational impact and that can lead to real community change,” says Robison. “We’re excited about projects that can span multiple generations, that can span multiple sectors, and truly improve communities end-to-end.”
In general, the education sector has been constrained in the funding they have, especially charter schools looking to develop new space, Robison says. Thus, CIP’s support for education has primarily consisted of facility loans, which include assistance to schools to acquire, renovate and construct sites. CDFI provides acquisition, construction and renovation loans, with an average loan size of approximately $5 million.
“We try to help [schools] get something permanent, something secure so they can be in one place and serve a community for the long term,” says Robison. “And then we try to make it as cheap as possible so the dollars can stay in the classrooms.”
Most of her work has been with charter schools that reach underserved students, as well as early childhood and adult education. CDFI partners with other community organizations and CDFIs nationwide to fund products up to approximately $20 million.
Over the past five years, CIP has provided $175 million in student loans, Robison says. Over its history, the organization has lent $900 million in the education sector, reaching over 250 schools and over 250,000 students.
In addition to funding, the CIP has a “answer key” available to help new charter schools plan each stage of development, including concept development, pre-development, design, pre-construction, construction, and financing.
“We offer a kind of technical assistance on installations because that’s our specialty,” says Robison. “But also on things that are important to us, whether it’s healthy food, racial equality and reaching your community, whether it’s through grants we offer, trainings or consultant.”
CIP is working to focus more on cross-sector lending in the future. “What we would like to do is see more projects that combine the educational element with affordable housing,” he adds.
For example, a building might have a school on the first floors and housing on the upper floors.
“We see that these communities need to go beyond just K-12 education,” says Robison. “Really trying to bring it all together is what excites us and we’re looking for opportunities to do that.”
This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lens of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.
Erica Sweeney is a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, AR. She covers health, wellness, business and more. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Good Housekeeping, HuffPost, Parade, Money, Insider and more.