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Charter School Growth Fund Announces $160 Million Campaign To Open More Non-Traditional Schools

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ATLANTA — Groups hoping to open charter schools across the country could soon have millions more dollars available.

The Charter School Growth Fund is announcing a $160 million fundraising campaign Wednesday – the largest-ever aimed at helping start more of the nontraditional public schools nationwide. The goal is to establish 335,000 more spots for children at charter schools in the next decade.

"There was a belief that there were lots of great schools out there, many of whom wanted to be able to grow and serve more students," said Kevin Hall, CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund. "We will help fulfill their mission of dramatically changing education in their community."

The Denver, Colo.-based fund has already raised half its goal from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation and Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix Inc., Hall said. Big names like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation have been previous donors.

The campaign comes at a time when the Obama administration is calling for more charter schools to open across the country as one of the ways to help improve education in the United States. States that applied for $4.35 billion in federal "Race to the Top" grants were told they had to have welcoming policies on charter schools to be a contender for the money.

Charter schools typically operate with a combination of public and private dollars once they are running, but the startup money is usually almost entirely private, which makes it difficult for parents, teachers or business leaders hoping to start a school. The schools get taxpayers dollars but are given flexibility to choose how they will meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Peter Groff, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called charter school funding the "triple whammy": dealing with scarce startup funds, having to pay rent for facilities, and getting on average $2,200 less per student than traditional public schools.

"Even with all that triple defense, these funds will be going to those organizations that have been able to overcome those odds and really show a great deal of performance in the kids they're teaching," Groff said.

The Charter School Growth Fund started in 2005 and raised $85 million in its first fundraising campaign, money that has gone to 20 organizations and helped create 100,000 charter school seats, Hall said.

With money from that effort, the fund also announced Wednesday that it is giving $20 million to six charter school groups in four states. The recipients are: Rocketship Education in San Jose, Calif.; Success Charter Network in New York; Knowledge is Power Program schools in Los Angeles; KIPP schools in Atlanta; and West Denver Prep and Denver School of Science and Technology in Colorado.

For the Atlanta group, the money means tripling the number of students it can serve to 3,300 and opening twice as many schools by 2015, said David Jernigan, executive director of KIPP Metro Atlanta. That means the several hundred students on a waiting list for one of the KIPP schools in the city will have a place to go, he said.

"We hope people see what we're doing as what's possible in education," said Jernigan, whose four Atlanta middle schools serve 70 percent poor students who frequently outperform many of their peers in other schools on standardized tests.

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Online:

Charter School Growth Fund: http://www.chartergrowthfund.org/

KIPP Metro Atlanta: http://www.kippmetroatlanta.org/

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: http://www.publiccharters.org/