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Kids Unlimited Academy awarded $450,000 grant

Kids Unlimited Academy Public Charter School won’t have to rely quite so much on fundraising this year thanks to a $450,000 federal charter school grant.

The Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement awarded planning and implementation grants in varying amounts to 16 charter schools nationwide, including Kids Unlimited Academy, Kairos PDX Public Charter School in Portland and Bend International School.

Kids Unlimited Academy will receive $225,000 in the first year, and the grant is renewable for two years.

“It was specifically designed to allow upstart charter schools in their early years of operation a chance to demonstrate what they want to do,” said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited, a free after-school and mentoring program that is the school’s parent company and host.

Until 2011, Oregon was the recipient of the Charter Schools Program State Educational Agencies (SEA) Grant and could administer that money to charter schools for planning, implementation or dissemination, said Kate Pattison, a charter school specialist with Oregon Department of Education.

The Medford School District approved a contract with Kids Unlimited Academy, originally called VIBES Public Charter School, in the spring of 2013, and the school opened its doors to 150 first- through third-graders that fall — two years too late to receive an implementation grant.

As a result the school was left to shoulder the startup costs, including furniture, books, curriculum, computers and staff supports.

Then the federal government recognized the need to provide resources for charter schools across the country that are either starting up or still evolving and created this federal funding stream to support those projects, said Cole.

“We are already doing more with less, so these resources are critical and will allow for additional professional development, stipends for teachers to develop science and social studies curriculum, an improved database system and additional classroom technology,” he said.

Cole said the school submitted its grant application and a detailed budget proposal to the Department of Education in June and was notified earlier this month that it was a recipient.

The school has been busy fundraising this year to cover the costs of adding full-day kindergarten and fourth-grade — an additional 100 students — and the costs of adding a playground and transforming about 13,000 square feet of the school into six classrooms, six offices and a space for the Family Nurturing Center.

“Going into this year, we had a $290,000 shortfall that we had to fundraise for to balance the budget,” Cole said. “With this grant, our fundraising goal is now $65,000 this year.”

And next year, if full-day kindergarten is funded by the state, the school will have a balanced budget, he added.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.