children-globeAdvantaged Capital for Education (ACE) is a group of affiliated organizations committed to helping communities improve their quality of schools. Our families started Covenant Educational Foundation in 1994 to provide scholarships to underprivileged students. Today, we are working hard to acquire and distribute scholarship resources to worthy students within and outside our network of charter schools. But we recognize that improving educational outcomes requires more than just money, it requires new approaches. The mission of ACE is to make a bigger impact by expanding and improving educational opportunities in local communities. We are focused on finding SOLUTIONS. Our observation is that time is wasted lamenting the circumstances or obstacles to improvement, and not enough time is spent contemplating and developing solutions. ACE is comprised of professionals with the legal, financial, real estate, and educational backgrounds necessary to deliver solutions. We can serve as a valuable resource to schools that need assistance getting approved, preparing to open, identifying and developing property, funding or refinancing facilities, or implementing curriculum. To assist in our efforts, we have developed partnerships with other organizations and non-profit groups to provide greater resources to our clients.

Our recent focus has been charter schools, but we are firm believers that education is an infinite-sum-game, not a zero-sum-game. We consult with traditional public schools, private independent schools, universities, and community colleges, believing that all are integral parts of a robust educational environment and face many similar challenges, particularly with respect to funding facilities.

Money is not the only solution, but it is a key ingredient for successful schools. In an era of tight government budgets, our job is to help schools raise low cost capital to build and grow their facilities, refinance debt to lower costs, or provide initial operating capital if needed. ACE relies on both its own internal capital as well as a network of external capital sources to provide financing to schools at all stages – whether at launch, to lease facilities, to buy facilities, or to refinance existing obligations. School financing is not well-understood by traditional lenders, and therefore we can help schools lower their cost of financing by connecting them to pools of capital that support and better understand the cash flows and risks. Charter school financing has too often come with excessively high rates, or strict limitations, and often both. ACE and its principals have placed more than $150 million in debt for charter schools over the last three years, and provided or committed over $5 million in its own capital over the past year, to help alleviate these issues. We also help structure the financing so that schools maintain maximum flexibility, so they have the choice to buy the property outright over time as the school grows and stabilizes, or lease it on a permanent basis.

hardhat-booksIn addition to low cost capital, schools need a development partner that understands the specific needs and budgets of schools. For example, with charter schools, site location is critical because the school must attract students and families, and convenience matters. Further, enrollment ramps up over time, and therefore the building plan needs to run parallel to help minimize interest costs. In addition, schools can often reduce costs by acquiring an existing building. We help schools renovate existing structures if most cost-effective, or build new structures that provide maximum flexibility in terms of design and cost. Every dollar saved in development is another dollar to use in the classroom. The building plan also needs to reflect the specific teaching style and curriculum focus. Charter schools are often successful because they offer unique teaching methods or curriculums that don’t conform to traditional classroom configurations. We work with engineers, architects, and builders that have a history of building educational facilities that fit schools of different size, budget, and focus. And since time frames for opening are often short, we coordinate with local development partners that can efficiently navigate the local permitting process.

Improving schools, through the charter process or otherwise, starts with dedicated people committed to effecting change. But often these individuals don’t have sufficient time to oversee the process day-to-day, or just don’t know where to start. ACE can serve as an initial resource in this effort. Recently, we helped a group in North Carolina start an organization called the Emereau Foundation (Emereau). We shared their concern that the charter school movement was concentrated in the largest population centers. But some of the places most in need of educational improvement lie outside those areas. National charter operators, as well as lenders, generally avoid less populated areas due to perceived risks. Charter schools can succeed there, but it requires a different model and approach. So we helped Emereau place multiple applications for new charter schools in less densely populated areas of eastern North Carolina. Community groups also find themselves giving up control of a school in order to secure funding for a facility. But we can help them secure financing without sacrificing control, for example by hiring experienced leaders and implementing proven curriculums. In the case of Emereau, we introduced them to one of the pioneers in the charter school movement in North Carolina, whose involvement and proven history will enable them to secure better financing terms. We also partner with groups such as Washington Educational Foundation that can help implement a curriculum in the first several years before turning it over to the board, again helping reduce risk in the eyes of lenders.

We invite you to explore our website to learn more about our capabilities helping create, fund, develop, and operate schools. We further invite you to review our efforts in providing financial support to worthy students. ACE can provide targeted help for a specific problem. We are committed to making sure that dedicated people have the resources to put their ideas into classrooms, and equally important, to help worthy students find their way into classrooms. The solution starts here.

Howard Sowell, Partner/CEO

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Robert (Trey) Greer, Partner

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Gardner Altman, Jr., Partner