Low-Income Students Need More Than a Good Education

Education-focused CDFI takes a big-picture approach, from funds to upgrade school facilities to workforce development initiatives for parents.

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School districts where most enrollees are low-income and students of color receive about $23 billion less in educational funding compared to school districts that are predominantly white, according to an EdBuild report.

“Students of color and low-income students are not given the opportunities; they’re not given the funding, they’re not getting the quality of education that they deserve,” says Will Robison, manager of national education at Capital Impact Partners (CIP), a 40-year-old CDFI that focuses on educational and other programs nationwide. “We’re trying to break that barrier and help them get what they deserve.”

Part of CPI’s mission is to help fund schools that bring high-quality education to these underserved students. The CDFI works on programs to support early childhood education, charter schools and workforce education.

“There’s also the benefit to the community around them, where parents — when their kids have early childhood education — are able to focus more on their career and their own education whenever their children are being properly watched and taught,” Robison says. “We see that as a benefit to the kids that get to participate in the programs, and we see a benefit to their families also.”

An example of this is the Briya Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., which features a two-generation educational model. Parents can study English, digital literacy and parenting, while their children receive early childhood education. The school also offers workforce development programs. CIP helped the charter school secure more than $34 million in New Market Tax Credits.

Briya also partners with Mary’s Center, an on-site federally qualified health center to offer medical, dental and behavioral health services, education and social services. Families can also access the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

“What excites us about projects like this is we can have that generational impact and that can lead to real community change,” Robison says. “We’re excited about projects that can hit multiple generations, that can hit multiple sectors and really improve communities through and through.”

Generally, the educational sector has been limited in the funding available to them, especially charter schools looking to develop a new space, Robison says. So CIP’s support for education has primarily been in facilities lending, which includes helping schools acquire, renovate and build sites. The CDFI provides acquisition, construction and renovation loans, with an average loan size of about $5 million.

“We try to help [schools] get something permanent, something secure so that they can be in one place and serve a community long term,” Robison says. “And then we try to make it as cheap as possible so that the dollars can stay in the classrooms.”

Most of its work has been with charter schools that reach underserved students, as well as early childhood and adult education. The CDFI partners with other community organizations and CDFIs nationwide to fund products up to about $20 million.

Over the past five years, CIP has provided $175 million in educational loans, Robison says. In its history, the organization has lent $900 million in the educational sector, reaching more than 250 schools and over 250,000 students.

Along with funding, CIP has an “answer key” available to help new charter schools plan for each development stage, including concept building, pre-development, design, pre-construction, construction and financing.

“We provide a kind of technical assistance on facilities because that’s our specialty,” Robison says. “But, also on things we care about, whether it’s healthy foods, racial equality and reaching your community, whether that’s through grants we provide, training or consultants.”

CIP strives to focus more on cross-sector lending in the future. “What we would like to do is see more projects that are tying the educational element with affordable housing,” he adds.

For example, a building may have a school on the first few floors and housing on the floors above that.

We’re seeing that going beyond just K-12 education is what these communities need,” Robison says. “Really trying to bring all those together is what is exciting us and we’re looking for opportunities to do that.”

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This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses 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.

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Erica Sweeney is a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, AR. She covers health, wellness, business and many other topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Good Housekeeping, HuffPost, Parade, Money, Insider and more.

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Tags: income inequalitycdfi futureseducation

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