In Buffalo, New York, foreign funds paid for the Health Sciences Charter School to renovate a 19th-century orphanage into modern classrooms and computer labs. In Florence, Arizona, overseas investment is expected to finance a sixth campus for the booming chain of American Leadership Academy charter schools. And in Florida, state business development officials say foreign investment in charter schools is poised to triple next year, to $90 million.It turns out that under a federal program known as EB-5, wealthy foreigners can in effect buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and their families by investing at least $500,000 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.