Charter School Incubator Awards Grants to Ind. Schools

by guest blogger Mike Bock

The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based charter school advocacy group, has selected two recipients for its first Charter School Incubator award. The Mind Trust has referred to its competition as a first-of-its-kind method for awarding funding to charter schools, as the winners were selected out of a pool of 35 teams from 18 states.

The first group, Phalen Leadership Academies, won $1 million to support their blended learning approach and their summer learning programs for K-8 students. The second group, Christel House International, won $1 million to open a second K-12 charter school for low income students by 2014, and launch a network of dropout recovery schools for teens and adults in Indianapolis by 2019. The grant money came from a number of philanthropic organizations and the city of Indianapolis. Here’s a short video about the grant competition and the two winners:

In the business world, the term “incubator” refers to an organization that provides young, promising companies with resources, training and support to get started. Donors who invest in those companies, in turn, are typically given a stake in those businesses. Incubators are popular in the technology industry, and help young companies get started (and get investors a stake in those companies.)

How does the incubator concept work in the charter school sector? Ursula Wright, interim CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told me that incubators typically provide three areas of support for charter schools: basic training, startup services, and early launch support—and can assist in anything from professional development courses to feedback on personnel hires. The process can take several years, and schools typically work very closely with the incubator groups. Just like an incubator in Silicon Valley, the goal is to help new organizations get their feet off the ground.

Wright said the process “really does set charter school leaders up for success,” and noted that she would like to see more incubator development in the future.

Incubator organizations like Building Excellent Schools (founded in 2001) and the Tennessee Charter School Incubator (founded in 2009) provide similar financial services and guidance to The Mind Trust, but follow the more conventional process of applying for and receiving grants (as opposed to The Mind Trust’s national competition-style process.)

For more information about charter school incubators, check out this brief from CEE-Trust and the Thomas Fordham Institute.

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