Bullis Charter School recently received more than $2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
The PPP is meant to help small businesses and nonprofits weather the pandemic, by providing loans that don’t have to be repaid if certain criteria are met.
Charter schools that are run as nonprofits, such as Bullis, qualify to receive the funds. Traditional public schools and other government entities, on the other hand, aren’t eligible for the program.
In a written statement, charter school officials said “PPP loans were designed to include small not-for-profits like BCS” and that they would be using the funds to “keep teachers and staff employed and continue providing online and in-person learning” to their roughly 1,100 students.
Bullis is not alone among charter schools in applying for the relief funds. According to a recent New York Times article, which included an interview with Bullis board chairman Francis La Poll, dozens of charter schools across the country are known to have applied
for the loans.
Those decisions have met with opposition in some quarters. Critics object to charter schools receiving funds traditional public schools aren’t eligible for, while also qualifying for other relief money Congress specifically set aside for public education.
Although the federal government is providing schools with some extra funding, Bullis officials said in their statement that charter schools aren’t guaranteed to get a fair share of the money. That exacerbates an existing funding gap between traditional public schools and charters, officials argued.
“Bullis Charter School receives significantly less funding per student in state and local tax revenues compared to LASD schools. In the most recent audited year, it was approximately $5,600 less per student,” La Poll said in the statement.
Parent donations raise additional funds for the school. The Bullis-Purissima Elementary School Foundation, which is a separate entity, solicits parent donations, suggesting a gift of $5,000 per student. The school’s 2019-2020 budget showed fundraising and grants making up more than a third of the school’s roughly $15 million in revenue.
Traditional public schools also have foundations, which raise money to support their districts. The Los Altos Educational Foundation raises money for the Los Altos School District. Last school year the suggested donation was $1,200 per student, and LAEF’s expected fundraising was budgeted to be less than 5% of the school district’s roughly $65 million in revenue.
The economic impact of the pandemic is expected to hit both charter and traditional schools, with Gov. Gavin Newsom proposing education funding cuts to help balance the state budget. If property tax revenue drops, that would also impact local schools’ bottom lines.