EDITORIAL: Agassi fund gives big boost to charter schools

Outside Las Vegas, Andre Agassi’s legacy is defined by his eight Grand Slam tennis titles. But in his hometown, Mr. Agassi’s reputation as an education reformer is rapidly redefining his celebrity.

On Monday, Mr. Agassi and Gov. Brian Sandoval paid a visit to Doral Academy West, a southwest valley charter school that opened in August thanks to the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund. Mr. Agassi started the fund with Los Angeles investor Bobby Turner, raising $550 million to help charter schools get off the ground. The Doral campus is leased from the Canyon-Agassi fund, which spent $9 million to convert a former University of Phoenix campus.

Doral Academy West would not have been able to construct such state-of-the-art classrooms without the fund. Although charter schools are public schools and do not charge tuition, and although they receive state funding comparable to the per-student allocations traditional public schools receive, charter schools get no capital funding from the public. That means money for construction, renovations or building leases or purchases must be raised or taken from operational funding. It’s a burden that crushes many charters before they can even start, because they can’t afford to take on much debt — if they can get a loan from banks in the first place.

Additionally, while failing public schools are guaranteed eternal life at public expense, charter schools can be quickly shut down by the state. Banks are mindful of this.

Enter Mr. Agassi’s fund and a new state law that gives charter schools access to low-interest state bond funds. As reported Monday by the Review-Journal’s Jennifer Robison, Doral Academy West hopes to use the bonds to purchase the building from the fund, which would provide Mr. Agassi’s group with a modest 10 percent return on investment.

Two more local charter schools, assisted by Mr. Agassi’s fund, are on track to open this fall. Land has been purchased in Henderson for an additional campus. His first charter school, the $40 million Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, has operated in West Las Vegas since 2001. And up to 30 — 30! — more local charter schools could benefit from the fund in the years ahead, Mr. Agassi said.

Charters create competition and innovation in local education and give families who can’t afford private school tuition an alternative to neighborhood schools. The sizable waiting lists at the Agassi Academy, Doral and other charters are evidence that parents want more such options. Charter schools are a critical part of any plan to improve K-12 education in Nevada. And Mr. Agassi, a champion of choice, is doing more than his part.