What's Charles Schwab Into? Charter Schools, Of Course

Brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab rode the emerging wave of online investing to amass client assets of over $2 trillion, and he now has a net worth of $6 billion. 

Schwab is one of those people who's been rich for a very long time, since the 1970s, and he's now well along in his philanthropy. The Charles and Helen Schwab Family Foundation (CHSFF) funds programs in several areas, but of course, being a finance guy, Schwab's biggest passion is education and, more specifically, charter schools.

We're not sure why charters and finance billionaires go together like peas and carrots, but we'll save the theorizing for another article. What's notable about Schwab is that he's deeper into this area than many of the more glitzy hedge fund donors who get so much attention.  

Perhaps his profile is lower because he's based out West. While he's very much a national funder, with grantmaking that has reached into many states, such as New York and Massachusetts, Schwab's biggest investments have been in California. He was born and raised in the state, got a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Stanford University and Charles Schwab Corporation is headquartered in San Francisco. 

Let's take a closer look at what CHSFF has been funding in recent years.

The first thing that jumps out is that the foundation has put money into a pretty broad swath of the usual suspects in the ed reform world. These include charter school chains like Aspire Public Schools and KIPP, and charter advocacy outfits like the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and California Charter Schools Association. CHSFF has also given money to Michelle Rhee's outfit, StudentsFirst.

The foundation is also working the human capital side of things, and has put money into Teach for America, The New Teacher Project, and the Stand for Children Leadership Center. Money has also gone for "ideas," with support for the Thomas Fordham Institute among a few other places. 

All in all, it's just the sort of diversified portfolio that a finance guy might put together.

A $1 million gift to the Charter School Growth Fund in 2011 stands out, not only because of the size of the gift but also because of its destination. Founded in 2005, the Charter School Growth Fund (CSGF) is a bit like the mother ship of the charter school movement, working to grow and professionalize this alternative ed sector. A lot of the major players in the charter school funding world have given to CSGF, including Walton, Gates, Dell, Bradley, and Fisher. Schwab 's investment here is yet more evidence that it's a core member of the charter cabal. 

Running the foundation day-to-day is Kristi Kimball, a veteran of ed philanthropy. She spent eight years at the Hewlett Foundation moving big K-12 money out the door and, earlier, worked in the U.S. Department of Education and held a few other ed jobs inside the Beltway. She has degrees from Dartmouth and Princeton, and has been at the foundation for nearly two years. Schwab is lucky to have her. 

Another thing to note in all of this is that Schwab's daughter, Katie Schwab Paige, has been very involved in the foundation. She initially helped develop her parents giving for children with learning difficulties and these days serves on the board of directors, a position she's held since 2006. Paige has also held prior positions at the Robin Hood Foundation in New York and the Columbia Park Boys and Girls Club in the Bay Area. 

So far, this operation isn't giving away giant amounts of money. In 2012, all ed giving CHSFF amounted to $3.7 million. 

Of course, there's more where that came from. Schwab has yet to sign the Giving Pledge but given his track record so far, we're betting that much bigger things lie ahead.