KIPP Announces Ambitious Expansion

Houston's KIPP charter school program is set to become the nation's largest and fastest-growing charter system. KIPP administrators plan to invest $100 million with the goal of enrolling thousands of children across the city. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Right now the KIPP blueprint is eight schools in the Houston area. There are 1,700 students enrolled, with 2,500 more on the waiting list. That's now. But in another ten years they plan to have a network of 42 charter schools in Houston with 21,000 students. KIPP co-Founder Mike Feinberg calls that the tipping point, where every student will have access to the best education.

"We're kind of caught in this spiral that we start more schools, our wait list grows. So how can we create a theory of change so eventually we grow to the point where we catch up to the wait list, where not only are we doing a good job with our kids, but the other public schools are doing a great job with their kids. So eventually all the children, all the parents of Houston are satisfied."

KIPP students are primarily minority, low-income students from the poorest neighborhoods. Feinberg says the program expansion will provide a high-quality education for thousands more while at the same relieving some of the burden on traditional public schools. The actual effect on under-served schools in districts like HISD remains to be seen. Steve Seleznow is with the Gates Foundation, which donated $10 million toward this expansion. He says they think this will actually help HISD.

"This is not, and I want to emphasize this, an attack on HISD. We have a great relationship with Houston Independent School District at the Gates Foundation and we will continue to do that and we want to see HISD also succeed. But we think a vibrant community should create great choices for parents."

The Gates Foundation was joined by the Houston Endowment, Wendy & Jeff Hines and Laura & John Arnold, who each contributed $10 million to KIPP. That, coupled with a capital improvement campaign, has already garnered $65 million. Feinberg says they'll continue fundraising to reach the $100 million goal, all of which will be reinvested into the local charter plan.

"We need to work harder. We need to be nicer. We need to teach better, we need to lead better. I think we need to tighten our belts more. We prepare the food better, drive the buses better. We need to clean our schools better, we need to report on student financial information better and everything else that goes into producing successful, college-educated citizens."

Feinberg says they will immediately start searching for staff and principals and will open as many new schools as they can find qualified teachers for. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...