Diddy Is Opening a Charter School. When Did They Become a Hot Celebrity Accessory?

Sean Combs, shown at a D.C. rally commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March in 2015, is the latest celebrity to start a charter school of his very own.

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Are charter schools the new signature fragrance? On Monday, hip-hop and fashion impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs hopped on the bandwagon of celebrities who dabble in charter schools when he announced plans to help launch a new charter in his birthplace of Harlem. Combs is working with Steve Perry—no, not the Journey frontman but the founder of the successful Hartford, Connecticut, Capital Preparatory Magnet School—to open Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School this fall. The school will enroll 160 students in sixth and seventh grades, and expand by a grade per year until it serves approximately 700 students in grades six through 12.

The celebrity’s desire to shape the next generation of young minds by opening a school is by no means unique to Diddy. There are VIP-funded schools abroad, like the occasionally embattled Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, which opened in 2007, and Angelina Jolie’s girls school just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, which dates back to 2013. Shakira’s nonprofit has bankrolled the opening of more than a half-dozen schools in her native Colombia.

But it’s closer to home, where charter schools continue to proliferate, where celeb involvement is really taking off. The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a K–12 school, has been around since 2001 in the tennis player’s hometown of Las Vegas; in subsequent years, through an investment venture, Agassi has helped finance the leasing and construction of at least 39 charter-school buildings in 12 different cities. 

The Cuban American rapper Pitbull helped open the Sports and Leadership Academy, or SLAM, a charter school serving middle- and high-schoolers interested in sports-management careers, in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood in 2013. Pitbull plans to expand SLAM to Las Vegas in 2017.*

NBA legend Magic Johnson, who has visited SLAM, has opened 13 alternative high schools in five states; his Bridgescape schools provide students who have dropped out or are at risk for dropping out “with another option to complete their education and another way to reach their goals” via an “abbreviated, flexible school day” with a heavy online component.

Sandra Bullock has long supported a charter high school in New Orleans, where her adopted son is from, that was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and Viola Davis and Meryl Streep have both pitched in various amounts to the same charter school in Davis’ Rhode Island hometown.

Celebrity involvement has not always resulted in successful schools—former Dallas Cowboys star Deion “Prime Time” Sanders’ charter, Prime Prep Academy, closed midyear, just two and a half years after opening, after nonstop financial problems—but as long as charters continue to take over the American educational landscape, so too will these name-brand campuses.

Because hey, isn’t opening a school a lot more interesting than debuting an eponymous lifestyle brand or signature spirit? After all, as celebrity accessories go, charters might at first blush appear a low-risk, high-reward (or at least high-recognition) hobby for the off-hours, but is there anything harder than running a great school? I mean, it can’t possibly be more challenging than producing a record or starting a clothing line.

Correction, March 30, 2016: This sentence originally misstated that Pitbull was born in Cuba. He was born in Miami to Cuban parents.