Thar's Gold in Them Thar Charter Schools: Walton and Gates Foundations Edition

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COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin

When the Walton Foundation—the ultra conservative WalMart fortune foundation which pours close to two hundred million a year into "education reform"—teams up with the Gates Foundation—Bill Gates' reasonably apolitical foundation which believes that every problem has a business model solution and also spends hundreds of millions on education initiatives—to put on a conference about education, it's worth taking notice. On March 10, the two groups hosted  "Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools" in New York. The purpose of the get-together was to let investors know they can make money lending to charter schools.
With the explicit intent of helping investors "Learn and understand the value of investing in charter schools and best practices for assessing their credit," the event featured experts on charter school investing from Standard & Poor's, Piper Jaffray, Bank of America, and Wells Capital Management, among others.

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Hedge funds and other private businesses are particularly interested in the growth and success of charter schools. The growth of charter networks around the US offer new revenue streams for investing, and the sector is quickly growing. Funding for charter schools is further incentivized by generous tax credits for investments to charter schools in underserved areas.

"It's a very stable business, very recession resistant, it's a high demand product. There are 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools ... the industry is growing about 12-14% a year," David Brain, former President and CEO at EPR Properties, told CNBC in 2012.

"It's a public payer, the state is the payer on this category," he added in support of the highly safe investing opportunities in charter schools.
As safe as an investment in charter schools may be, Ducey and the AZ Lege want to make it safer still by creating a $24 million pot of collateral, which Ducey calls the "Arizona Public School Achievement District plan," to guarantee the loans. Details about the plan have not yet been announced, but if I read it right, it's a win-win for charter schools and investors. The only ones at risk are Arizona taxpayers. The collateral brings down interest costs because the loans are secured. Great for charters. Investors know they'll get their money no matter what. Great for investors. But if a charter fails, the state is left paying off the loan and holding the bag. Not so great for the state budget and the taxpayers who fund it.

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