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Who Got the Money? See for Yourself: ProPublica’s COVID-19 PPP Loan Search

July 24, 2020

To view recipients of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses and nonprofit organizations during the coronavirus pandemic, use ProPublica’s marvelous search engine.

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In researching nonprofits, I find ProPublica’s nonprofit search engines to be incredibly resourceful. For example, ProPublica offers a full text keyword search of thousands of nonprofit tax forms.

Often when I am researching nonprofit organizations related to education reform, including charter schools, I begin by Googling the name of the organization and including the term, “propublica” with the name, to immediately locate ProPublica’s concisely organized tax forms for the organization.

During the coronavirus pandemic, with the federal government offering Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses and nonprofit organizations, ProPublica has once again delivered a marvelous search engine enabling the public to easily investigate which companies and nonprofits have received federal money in the form of loans ranging from $150K to $10M, including charter and private schools and other education organizations.

ProPublica offers this summary of PPP loan criteria:

Companies and nonprofit organizations that receive PPP loans may have the loans forgiven if they meet certain criteria, including not laying off employees during an 8-week period covered by the loan. Applicants must attest in their application that the loans are necessary for their continuing operation. Note: This data includes loan applications approved by banks and submitted to the SBA. It may not reflect money distributed to, or credit used by, a given company.

One controversy surrounding the issuance of PPP money to charter schools concerns whether charters– with their quasi, public-school/-business categorizations– “double-dipped into funds intended for public schools (via funding earmarked for K12 schools in the CARES Act) and/or federal money explicitly offered to charter schools, as well as PPP money– as noted in the July 10, 2020, Salon article, “Charter Schools May Have Double-Dipped As Much As $1 Billion in Small PPP Loans.” An excerpt:

One network alone, the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), appears to have pulled somewhere between $28 million and $69 million in taxpayer dollars.

Another network of publicly-funded, privately-run schools, Achievement First, appears to have taken in between $7 million and $17 million in PPP loans. The network also received $3.5 million from a special $65 million federal grant that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos awarded to 10 charter management organizations in April, weeks after the PPP was passed, to “fund the creation and expansion of more than 100 high-quality public charter schools in underserved communities across the country.

Regarding the number of employees allegedly retained by receipt of PPP money, Salon also notes the following:

At least 15 charter schools that reported receiving more than $1 million in payroll protection from the government reported putting that money towards zero jobs. At least seven of the schools left the field blank.

One can use the ProPublica PPP search engine to verify, for example, that Democracy Prep Louisiana Charter School received between $350K and $1M on April 28, 2020, from Sterling National Bank in order to retain zero jobs.

One can also see that four Democracy Prep charter schools (Louisiana, Texas, Nevada and New York) received between $3.7M and $9M in potentially-forgivable PPP loans. In addition to whether Democrcay Prep also received CARES Act funds, the question looms as to what revenue the school actually lost due to COVID-19. Was state-level, per-pupil funding revoked? Not likely. Did philanthropic funders suddenly pull out? Unknown.

What is known is that according to Democracy Prep New York’s FY2017 tax filing, the charter management org had spent beyond its means for two years in a row, leaving Democracy Prep New York with negative end-of-year net assets in FY2016 (-$369K) and FY2017 (-$1.7M).

Democracy Prep New York also ended in the red in FY2015 (end-of year net assets -$712K).

Is Democracy Prep using PPP money as an opportunity to recover from its pre-COVID fiscal struggles?

Good question.

As for private schools utilizing PPP money: It is possible that private schools also received CARES Act funding for K12 schools. Too, the question arises as to whether private schools actually suffered from revenue (i.e., tuition) losses due to COVID. (Just because a private school ended its year via distance learning does not necessarily mean that the school reduced tuition.) Finally, private schools receiving federal funds must also follow the federal government’s anti-discrimination requirements and procedures, which are concisely summarized in this Shipman and Goodwin FAQs on the subject.

It is als possible that high-end private schools used PPP loans as a fiscal opportunity.

Consider DC-based, five-acre-campus Sidwell Friends, which has set its 2020-21 tuition at $45K-$46K per year. Tuition for 2019-10 was $44,280.

Now, Sidwell Friends does offer financial aid to 23 percent of its students, with the average aid offered at $28,300. So, even with financial aid, that 23 percent of students still pay out-of-pocket $16K per year.

Sidwell Friends reports 1,155 students enrolled for 2019-20. With 77 percent (890 students) paying $44,280 and the remaining 23 percent (265 students) paying $15,980, that means that Sidwell Friends garnered $4.4M from tuition in 2019-20.

Sidwell Friends also advertises a variety of ways to donate to the school. Donors giving $50K or more are designated as members of Sidwell Society.

And yet, Sidwell Friends received a possibly-forgivable PPP loan of $5M to $10M (the maximum amount) from CRF Small Business Loan Co. (which advertises maximum Small Business Association, or SBA, loans of $4M) on April 14, 2020.

Did the Sidwell Society clear out due to COVID-19? Was tuition refunded?

More questions, indeed.

Since ProPublica makes the searching easy, members of the public can examine how PPP money has been disbursed to charter schools, private schools, other education entities, and to businesses in general, in their communities and states. For example, Louisiana retired teacher and education advocate, Lee Barrios, used the ProPublica PPP loan search engine to compose lists of Louisiana charter schools and Louisiana private Schools that received PPP money.

To view PPP loans disbursed in a given state, use this link to simply click on “location” to sort alphebetically by state (and cities within states) and use the page number options at the bottom of the page to locate the page range for a given state. (Louisiana falls on ascending-state-sorted pages 30 and 31.)

Thank you, ProPublica, for your invaluable efforts to keep public money in the public eye.

magnifying glass money

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No time like the present to sharpen your digital research skills!  See my latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, available for purchase on Amazon and via Garn Press!

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Follow me on Twitter @deutsch29blog

6 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Cloaking Inequity and commented:
    A great piece examining charters and the $$$ distributed during COVID-19

  2. Laura H.Chapman permalink

    And thank you Mercedes for showing others how to make use of ProPublica’s search engine.

  3. PPP = Private Patronage Payola

    yet another trickle down that trickled mostly up …

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. NPE Publishes Comprehensive, State-by-State Listing of PPP Money to Charter Schools | deutsch29
  2. Mercedes Schneider: Thanks to ProPublica, You Can Follow the Money | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. 2020 Medley #16 | Live Long and Prosper

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