Indiana charter, private schools get Paycheck Protection funds

Indiana charter schools were awarded between $15 million and $38 million in Paycheck Protection Program funding intended to help small businesses and nonprofits during the economic downturn, according to  Small Business Administration data.

That is in addition to funding under a section of the CARES Act intended to help public schools; Indiana charter schools got $20.5 million in that funding.

The PPP figure is a conservative estimate. It doesn’t include schools that may have received less than $150,000, which were not identified by the SBA.

For awards over $150,000, the government did not provide specific amounts for the funding but rather listed a range of funds awarded to each school: for example, it might say a school received between $350,000 and 1 million.

At least 36 Indiana charter schools received funding via the program. Indiana private schools, nearly all of them religious schools, received even more.

The fact that charter schools benefit from programs for public schools and for private entities has led to claims that they are “double dipping.” Charter school officials argue they don’t have access to the same funding sources as traditional public schools – local property taxes, for example – and that they have to get by with less money.

The PPP funding is in the form of loans; but the loans generally don’t have to be repaid if the receiving organizations keep their employees on the payroll.

The program was billed as a way to help offset losses for businesses and nonprofits resulting from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in Indiana, at least, charter schools have continued to receive their regular state funding regardless of the pandemic.

“By taking PPP when not needed, systemic inequities increased,” Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, wrote in the Washington Post. “The PPP has been widely criticized as being difficult to access for many small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color.”

The Network for Public Education, together with the policy organization In the Public Interest, compiled state-by-state lists of Paycheck Protection Program funding received by charter schools.

“The amount that we have identified is staggering,” Burris wrote. “More than 1,300 charter schools and their nonprofit or for-profit management companies secured between $925 million and $2.2 billion through the PPP.”

It’s frustrating that the SBA provides a range of funding for each recipient, making it impossible to tell how much money the schools – individually or in aggregate – receive. To find out, you could file a public records request with all the charter schools; or maybe to review their board minutes, if they post them.

The Bloomington Herald-Times did the reporting and revealed that Bloomington Project School received $335,100 and Seven Oaks Classical School received $362,800. (The SBA database says the Project School received between $150,000 and $350,000 and Seven Oaks between $350,000 and $1 million). Based on the schools’ enrollment, that suggests PPP funding runs at about $1,000 per pupil.

In at least one case, the SBA data may exaggerate how much money charter schools are getting. Funding for Christel House Academy – between $2 million and $5 million – reportedly supports not only the organization’s Indianapolis charter schools but its schools India, Mexico, Jamaica and South Africa.

The Paycheck Protection Program also helps private schools. In Indiana, it appears they received between $45.4 million and $117.8 million – although it’s hard to tell, because many are affiliated with churches, which may also receive PPP funding.

Private schools, most of which are religious schools in Indiana, get a share of the CARES Act funding allocated to public school districts, although the amount is in dispute. Also, many have continued to receive state funding under Indiana’s school voucher program.

Here are lists of Indiana charter schools and private schools that I could identify in the SBA data, along with the range of funding that they received. Please let me know if you see any errors or omissions.

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