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Charter Schools, Some With Billionaire Benefactors, Tap Coronavirus Relief

Charter recipients of the forgivable loans include wealthy networks like Summit, whose most recent tax filings show it had assets totaling $43 million and an endowment, and it paid its chief executive nearly $500,000. The charter network receives donations from the philanthropic organizations of Mr. Bloomberg and Bill and Melinda Gates, and the Bezos Family Foundation. And its business-savvy California board of directors includes Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Quibi and former chief executive of eBay.

In many cases, charter school leaders have openly acknowledged that they did not apply for the funds because they were in dire financial straits. The board chairman of one Oakland, Calif., charter school network, Education for Change Public Schools, said its $5 million loan would be a “cheap form of cash-flow financing.”

In North Carolina, the founding board member of one charter school, Pine Springs Preparatory Academy, told Ms. Burris that it was “like a private school for wealthy kids” — it accepted $550,000. In Washington, D.C., several charter schools have refused to say whether they took the loans. One San Diego charter was awarded a $2.25 million loan in May, then laid off a third of its teachers. One of the terms of the program is the loans convert to grants if recipients retain or rehire employees.

Parents and researchers in Oakland have tracked about $19 million awarded to charters in the Oakland Unified School District. A report released Monday by In the Public Interest, a policy and research group that scrutinizes the privatization of public goods, found that 70 percent of the district’s 43 charter schools had accepted the funding. Combined with federal relief funds available to all public schools, the report says, the district’s charter schools would receive at least $23 million in federal funding, which breaks down to an average of nearly $2,000 more per student than traditional schools.

“We have money for small businesses, we have money for schools. And when they’re using both of these sources for the same need, it’s doing a real disservice to the community,” said Clare Crawford, a senior policy adviser at the research group.

The report was done in partnership with a parent group, Parents United for Public Schools, whose members aggressively tracked the Paycheck Protection Program funds. The group’s co-founder, Kim Davis, came across the charter funding by accident while on a charter school meeting held on Zoom, and said she was “stunned.”

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