The rapid expansion of North Carolina's charter schools is pushing the startup schools toward specialty finance companies that find funding to acquire buildings, a network of companies and consultants that run the schools and even a flow of Chinese investment funds.
The result is that taxpayer money flows to entities across the country and around the world to repay debts and cover outsourced services, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Charters are public schools free of many restrictions facing other taxpayer-funded schools because they agree to target a particular student population. If the state approves it, the school gets state and local money based on enrollment.
Chinese funding reached Thunderbird Preparatory Academy, a two-year-old Cornelius charter school now fighting for survival, through the EB-5 visa program, according to a review of the school's finances, governance and facilities last week by the state's Charter School Advisory Board.
The little-known federal program provides visas to wealthy foreign investors in return for their investments in U.S. projects. EB-5 investors gain permanent U.S. residency and a path to citizenship for them, their spouses and children.
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