Parents wanting to testify against a Senate leadership initiative to place a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in Rhode Island had to wait for two hours Wednesday night while Chair of Senate Education Committee Sandra Cano took the testimony of labor leaders and other elected officials.
The moratorium legislation is sponsored by the Senate’s number three ranked leader Maryellen Goodwin who represents the Smith Hill area (District 1).
The union-backed bill places a moratorium on charter schools and is retroactive and thus, trying to undo the recently approved expansion.
Dozens of parents were forced to wait to testify and Spanish-speaking parents were not called on to testify for three hours.
While parents waited, teachers’ union leaders like National Education Association’s Larry Purtill and others union leaders spoke up first to support the moratorium.
Opposed to the moratorium is a sweeping collection of parents from across the state and many parents voiced their frustration of being one of thousands now on waiting lists for their children to attend a charter.
Public Schools in Providence and Central Falls Failed Performance
Education Commission Angélica Infante-Green in a letter to the committee outlined the need for additional seats in high-performing charters.
“Last spring, charter public schools received more than 20,000 applications from more than 10,000 students throughout the state,” she wrote. “More than 11,900 of these applications came from Providence, with an additional 1,500 coming from Central Falls. There is good reason for this strong demand. Charter public schools are currently one of the most viable paths to high-quality and tuition-free education for a child in Providence and Central Falls.”
Infante-Green pointed out that the failure of the Providence Schools — which made national news as being arguably the worst school system in America in 2019 with the release of the Johns Hopkins reports — needs to addressed and part of the solution is to add additional high performing charter school opportunities for minority urban children.
The Wall Street Journal called Providence schools an “education horror show.”
Commissioner Infante-Green offered strong support for chartersInfante-Green laid out a staggering array of underperformance.
“In Providence, 1 in 5 children attending PPSD schools is completing grade-level work in English Language Arts (ELA), and just 1 in 8 in math. In Central Falls, 1 in 7 attending CFSD schools is completing grade-level work in ELA, and just 1 in 13 in math,” she wrote. “This means that, on average, in any given classroom throughout these two districts, just two students are completing ELA and math work on grade level. The numbers are even more distressing for our multilingual learners. In Providence, 1 in 20 multilingual learners is completing grade-level work in ELA, and 1 in 27 in math. In Central Falls, we see 1 in 13 multilingual learners proficient in ELA and 1 in 20 in math.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza who had the Providence schools stripped away by the state for under-performance opposed the moratorium.
Elorza asked the question, “Which schools are delivering for black and brown families? The resounding answer is charter schools.”
Senator Ryan Pearson challenged Elorza to provide a cost to the City of Providence School Department for allowing the previously approved charters to move forward.
“So you’re OK with taking $80 million away from the district to ensure that 2,400 kids have that additional opportunity?” Pearson asked Elorza. “I can’t see it. It seems like a race to the bottom to me.”
Pearson requested that Elorza provide a budget impact to the city — just one problem with the Senator’s request. Providence is no longer running the school system and that request should have been requested of the Rhode Island Department of Education.
Pearson who during the hearing repeated expounded on his education expertise and how he had led numerous education initiatives admitted to GoLocal in a phone interview after the hearing that he has never visited a school in Providence — the state’s largest school district.
Infante-Green said in her testimony, “This year we ran the most exhaustive and inclusive public engagement processes to receive input on new proposals. We published fiscal impact statements that detailed the projected costs of each new or expanding school. We hosted five public hearings that lasted more than 18 hours, and we received more than 1,000 public comments. Support for these proposals was overwhelming, with 94% of comments supporting the proposals. I will especially note that we did not receive a single letter of opposition from a superintendent or school committee member.”
Achievement First’s Elizabeth Winangun, the Director of External Relations said at the hearing, “We had 3880 students on our waitlist after enrolling over 500 kids last fall. The lottery for the 21-22 school year opened on December 1st and to date we have received 3005 applications, many of which are for the elementary school this bill would stop from opening. We have been operating in Rhode Island for almost 8 years.”
She specifically challenged one committee member,” Lastly, Senator [Ana] Quezada please know, we have 2071 students on our waitlist specifically from your community. In the past month or so (since the application opened) we have received over 700 applications, just from District 2, for the 2021-2022 school year. We want you to know your constituents want this option and they want it to flourish. I ask all of you – how much longer should these kids have to wait?”
After hours of waiting, Parents and Spanish Speaking Parent Go Last
Senate leadership defended that State House insiders testified first while parents needed to wait for hours.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s spokesman Greg Pare, Director of Communications, “This evening, individuals who signed themselves up were taken up first. They were called alternating one pro then one con, and so on. The committee also received an email from two different groups with a large number of people who wanted to testify. These lists were submitted as a group and so they are being called to testify as a group.”
Despite overwhelming opposition, the Committee passed the moratorium 8-1. The only legislator voting against the bill was Senator Thomas Paolino.