The Labrador Foundation & 
Level Up Academy

When board members of The Labrador Foundation (TLF) learned that a pioneering third grade teacher in a Twin Cities metro school district had taken it upon himself to build an entire classroom centered on personalized learning, digital technology, and game-based teaching methods, they were captivated. And once they saw the impact it was having on student outcomes, they asked whether it might be possible to build an entire elementary school using those innovative approaches.

Working with a number of partners, TLF helped lay the groundwork for what would become Level Up Academy, a Minnesota charter school. From the beginning, TLF’s grant dollars played an important role, helping fund the process from planning to approval. By spring of 2015, the school had secured an authorizer and was ready to launch for the 2015-16 school year. There was just one problem. The school still had no building.

In May, with less than four months to go before the first day of school, the administration found a promising space in a church that had been recently vacated by a rapidly growing congregation. However, the facility did not meet the code requirements for charter school occupancy. The sprinkler system, kitchen, and parking lot all needed to be upgraded, and quickly, if the school was to open at the start of the new school year.

With no time to spare, the school approached several potential lenders to finance the renovation. But none were willing to take on the risk of lending to a new charter school with no history of enrollment. Faced with the possibility of a postponed launch and a major loss of momentum, TLF stepped in at the last minute and made a PRI to Level Up Academy, ultimately funding $243,908 in construction costs for the school on an eight-year, interest-bearing loan. The project was completed just two days before the school welcomed its first students.

Over the past two years, the school has seen its enrollment grow and has made its annual payments to TLF in full and on time. TLF is proud of Level Up Academy’s progress and of the role it played. The foundation’s president explained, “Our approach evolved to fit the needs of the initiative at each stage. At first we were a grantor. But when the market would not provide financing, we stepped up and became a lender. The PRI was instrumental in bringing this vision to fruition.”