Tennis great Andre Agassi visited fifth graders at a new Pleasant Grove charter school he had a hand in starting.
Agassi and others support school choice, but some are concerned about tax dollars and top students leaving traditional public schools.
The tennis legend actually opened his own charter school at the age of 27 in Las Vegas in 2001. It’s an issue he's passionate about, and he’s now helping to fund similar schools, giving traditional public schools some competition. To date, he's helped open 79 charter schools across the country, including several in Texas.
Agassi spoke to students on Wednesday at the new KIPP Pleasant Grove Primary and Middle School. He explained why it was an easy decision for him to take a swing at the complicated issue of education alternatives.
Agassi and an investment partner started a fund and teamed up with KIPP Schools, the country’s largest network of charter schools. The 82,000 square foot Pleasant Grove campus offering K-8th grade opened last fall.
“I don't believe charter schools are the panacea answer to our educational needs,” the tennis champion said. “But the top 15 percent, KIPP being the top of the heap there, by far and away outperform their district peers.”
Charter schools are posing other challenges to traditional public schools, especially when it comes to critical funding.
In August, state lawmakers approved tax dollars for charter school facilities in addition to per-student funds, raising concerns that more state money will be siphoned away from public schools.
“It adds another layer of complexity,” said Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa last August after an A+ charter school moved in 900 feet away from Spruce High School. “And the revenue, the money follows the kid. So if students enroll in that school, which is a brand new building, then we're gonna have less revenue to deal with.”
Despite the A+ school, DISD says enrollment actually increased at Spruce and emphasizes the district educates all who show up and cannot cherry pick students.
Agassi still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“For me, resources without accountability doesn’t work,” he said. “The one thing I would love is for public education to not need us.”
Agassi's fund is focused on securing long-term facilities for charter schools, which is often an obstacle, and to help ensure they'll be around for years to come.