In the rapidly accelerating debate over charter school expansion in Rhode Island, it has become apparent that we can offer no easy answer to the simple question: Are more charter schools a good thing for students in the state? However, this does not mean
In the rapidly accelerating debate over charter school expansion in Rhode Island, it has become apparent that we can offer no easy answer to the simple question: Are more charter schools a good thing for students in the state? However, this does not mean that a proposed three-year moratorium on charter school expansion – recently overwhelmingly passed in the Rhode Island Senate – is a good idea.
A significant majority of Rhode Islanders – including a whopping 63 percent of Latinx residents polled by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University – favor an expansion of charter schools. To get more nuanced, according to polling data conducted by ALG Research and reported by GoLocal Prov, about 90 percent of Rhode Islanders believe parents should have a choice in deciding where their child goes to school, and the amount of people who think charter schools do good (59 percent) is more than double the amount that think they do harm (25 percent) to the overall efficacy of public education in the state.
Charter schools are held to all the same legal obligations as district-led public schools and have high standards of academics – and ultimately have higher rates of satisfaction among parents when compared to the public school systems throughout Rhode Island. When taken at face value, there doesn’t seem to be much ground for charter school opponents to stand on.
Of course, things are not always as simple as they may seem – or as simple as charter school and mayoral academy advocates play them off to be.
It is no secret that a majority of public school districts in Rhode Island are chronically under performing and chronically under funded. Rhode Islanders have recently approved hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing to assure that the buildings they send their children to each day don’t have rats or gaping holes in the ceilings. With this in mind, we would opine that the mere presence of a sharp appetite for school choice among fed up Rhode Islanders should not alone be used to justify more charter schools. Just because people want another option, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an overall better option.
Another fact is that public school districts will indeed suffer consequences of more charter schools opening in the state. They lose funding on a per-pupil basis for each student that leaves the district and opts for a charter school, leaving them with even fewer resources to manage their expenses. Arguments that this should force public school districts to “better optimize” their facilities and tighten up their financial belts ignore the fact that there is no rhyme or reason for which students (from where, and from what grades) will be picked in the random lotteries that fill charter seats. It’s just not that simple.
With all of that said and recognized, we cannot see a justifiable reason to place any length moratorium on charter school expansion in Rhode Island. We agree with Gov. McKee’s assessment that the idea “makes no sense” at this time.
Rhode Island’s educational system has many complex problems – none of which have easy answers. The pandemic has compounded these problems and placed even more burden on families, particularly those of low income. Charter schools, while imperfect, provide an opportunity for a student from a low-income family to receive a better education than they would receive otherwise by going to their local public school, which is a net positive outcome for the state.
It does not erase the unfortunate fact that there will be students left behind who cannot attend charter schools due to limited space. It does not erase the fact that Rhode Island has a lot of hard years ahead of it while it tries to right decades-worth of wrong decisions and financial mismanagement that rendered its public schools a haunting display of national shame. It is not a perfect solution – because that doesn’t exist.
It is our opinion that the legislature is jumping the gun on this particular issue and are actively going against the grain of what the majority of their constituents actually want – likely at the behest of public school advocates such as teachers’ unions and superintendents who are, rightfully, advocating against a cause that will directly hurt their financial situation.
However, we would argue that during this specific moment in time where so much harm has been done to students and their families, we cannot ally with the cause of denying students the opportunity to attend a charter school – to likely receive a better education – in order to hypothetically help ailing public school districts in the future.
The legislature would be better served digging in and putting their heads together to work on solutions for why the public school districts are so chronically under funded and how to fix that, and resist the urge to placate those with a larger lobbying presence than the families they are supposed to be representing.