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US charter schools: Investment magnet for visa-needy foreigners?

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And in Florida, state business development officials say foreign investment in charter schools is poised to triple next year, to $90 million.

The reason? Under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy US immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least 500,000 dollars in certain development projects. In the past two decades, much of the investment has gone into commercial real-estate projects, like luxury hotels, ski resorts and even gas stations.

Lately, however, enterprising brokers have seen a golden opportunity to match cash starved charter schools with cash flush foreigners in investment deals that benefit both.

"The demand is massive, massive on the school side," said Greg Wing, an investment advisor. "On the investor side, it's massive, too."

Two years ago, Mr. Wing set up a venture called the Education Fund of America specifically to connect international investors with charter schools. He is currently arranging EB-5 funding for 11 schools across North CarolinaUtah and Arizona and says he has four more deals in the works.

And that's just the start, Wing says: "It's going to be explosive."

Credit crunch

The charter school movement is somewhat controversial. Critics led by teachers' unions, contend they divert much-needed funds from traditional public schools. Still, they have proved quite popular and now educate more than 2 million children in the United States.

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