Four Northwest Florida charter schools receive PPP money, avoid furloughs, layoffs

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

NORTHWEST FLORIDA – Northwest Florida schools were among the national list of schools that received a chunk of the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program meant to bolster small businesses during the onset of financial hardship caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Congress passed the PPD program as part of the larger coronavirus economic stimulus legislation in the spring. Locally, Liza Jackson Preparatory School, Okaloosa Academy, Walton Academy and Learning Academy of Santa Rosa received a combined $1,804,059. 

More:Liza Jackson Preparatory to build new school for August 2021

The Washington Post compiled a state-by-state list of charter schools and charter management organizations that had been reported as receiving PPP loans. No charter schools were listed in Escambia County. Rising Leaders Academy in Panama City was the only school in Bay County, and received between $150,000 and $350,000.

More:PHOTOS: Private and charter schools get prepared for students in the COVID-19 pandemic

The maximum amount of money you can borrow through the PPP is two-and-a-half times your average monthly payroll costs or $10 million, whichever is lower.

Ultraviolet lights are being used at Liza Jackson Preparatory School to clean surfaces when students are not present in the classrooms.

“Not all charter schools got it,” said Kaye McKinley, the principal of Liza Jackson Preparatory School. “You had to be a 501c3 and that’s what we are. Not just schools, but all nonprofits were eligible.”

The Treasury Department and The U.S. Small Business Administration, which administered the program,released data on what organizations won loans from the program and how much they received. Based on this data, The Washington Post article estimated that more than 1,300 charter schools and their nonprofit, for-profits or management companies secured between $925 million and $2.2 billion through the PPP.

Staff at Liza Jackson Preparatory School check student temperatures at the entrance to the school as they welcome students back to school in late August.

This number is uncertain because the SBA did not report the exact amounts of the forgivable loans, according to the same article. Excluded from those calculations is the sizable number of PPP loans below $150,000, which the Trump administration has not disclosed.

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll, according to the SBA’s website.

The money was to be used for payroll – which local charter schools did.

Tammie Braden, the controller for The Rader Group – which helps manage Okaloosa Academy, Walton Academy and the Learning Academy of Santa Rosa – said all three schools applied for and received PPP loan money. The money was placed in a separate account to be used exclusively for payroll.

“During the time when the COVID hit, we had kind of gone back and forth on if we were going to have to lay off or furlough employees,” Braden said. “Because we were able to obtain those funds, we didn’t have to lay off or furlough employees. That’s where all of those funds were used is to pay salaries at that time.”

Bill Rader, the president and CEO, said the money the schools received covered salaries for a minimum of eight weeks. All employees were paid salaries including teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, deans and office staff, he said.

"Because the Paycheck Protection funds covered employee salaries, we were able to purchase additional Personal Protection Equipment, cleaning supplies and add additional technology at each of the schools," Rader said.

Traditional water fountains have been shut off at Liza Jackson Preparatory School. Instead, students are using the touchless water bottle filling stations like the one pictured.

Charter schools, like public schools, received emergency stimulus money from Congress, but then also had the option to apply for PPP loans. But like the charter schools managed by The Rader Group, some needed the aid to keep their staff.

Terri Roberts, the CEO of Liza Jackson Preparatory School, said the money was a "godsend." The school put in its application for the PPP loan at the beginning of April and received its $938,500 on April 16.

“We probably were one of the first applications they got in – like the minute they opened,” Roberts said. “We used it to cover payroll for two months, rent for two months and all of our utilities for two months, which was wonderful because we didn’t have our daycare open. We were able to pay everybody. We kept everyone employed. And we were able to keep everybody employed as we go into this year.”

These vacuums were purchased for each classroom at Liza Jackson Preparatory School to be used by teachers since lunch is now eaten in the classrooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The money came at a crucial time, too.

“The biggest thing is we don’t know what lies in store for us after November,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been watching sales tax collection with vigor. Public schools are largely funded by sales tax, she said. Liza Jackson is a public charter school, meaning it is publicly funded and privately operated.

The legislature and governor have held off on any cuts, Roberts said. But as a former chief financial officer for the School District of Okaloosa County with 40 years of experience in the business, she sees this changing.

“I’ve seen a lot of downturns in the economy,” Roberts said. “I’m projecting we’re going to probably be facing at least a 6 to 8% cut. You can look at what happened to Santa Rosa (School District), I know already laid off 80 teachers. Basically having those PPP funds is going to help us avoid laying any staff off as we get through this year.”

The Santa Rosa County School District expects a $6 million to $7 million reduction in funding this school year due to lower enrollment numbers caused by COVID-19, which led to the firing or re-assignment of more than 150 teachers in early August.

Half of those teachers were reassigned from brick-and-mortar classrooms to remote positions, and the other half were laid off. About half of the approximately 75 teachers who were laid off have since been re-hired at the district with Santa Rosa Online.

But even with the teacher layoffs, which will save the district around $2 million, the district says it's still expecting to come up short about $4 million or $5 million — which it will still have to make up for in other operational costs come springtime. 

Payment Protection Program amounts received

Liza Jackson Preparatory School: $938,500

Okaloosa Academy: $446,297.00

Walton Academy: $287,140.00

Learning Academy of Santa Rosa: $132,122.00

To view the Washington Post's state-by-state list of charter schools and charter management organizations and their PPP range amounts, visit