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Metro, News

“We need to pause”: R.I. legislators discuss charter school moratorium

State senator, representative unpack Gov. McKee’s Providence Journal op-ed

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2021

Despite an uphill battle, legislators remain supportive of the bill.

In a March 29 op-ed for The Providence Journal, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee criticized a proposed three-year moratorium on charter schools, which are institutions that receive government funding but operate separately from the state system.  

“A moratorium on public charter schools does nothing to improve our public education system while the moratorium debate itself only serves to divide us,” McKee wrote. “Parents … who know their children will have a better chance in a public charter school, do not deserve to have the door of opportunity slammed in their face by the state.”

House Bill 5193, Establishment of Charter Schools was passed by the Rhode Island State Senate Feb. 10, instituting a hold on the creation or expansion of new charter schools in the state through the end of the 2023-24 academic year. The governor’s office said McKee will veto the bill if passed by the General Assembly. 

“The bill is really about trying to figure out a financial structure to fund charter schools and to put a pause on these approvals until we have a mechanism that fairly funds both the charters and the district schools,” State Representative Gregg Amore told The Herald. Amore introduced the bill with fellow Representatives Julie Casimiro, Susan Donovan, Joseph McNamara and William O’Brien.

The recent preliminary approval of 5,835 new charter school seats would drain over $92 million in funding from traditional public schools in the state, according to State Senator Maryellen Goodwin, a proponent of the bill. The districts sending students to these schools would be charged $25.4 million and lose approximately $66.9 million in state aid. 

“We need to pause,” Goodwin wrote in an email to The Herald. “We need to reexamine our funding formula to ensure that students in traditional public schools aren’t left behind.”

Both Goodwin and McKee acknowledged the strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic for both charter and traditional public schools in the state and the resulting “increased demand for resources,” Goodwin said.

“The fact is that any increase to the number of seats at charter schools inherently draws financial resources from traditional public schools,” Goodwin added. 

McKee argued that “for those who cannot afford to move or pay for education, a public charter school is a choice and an opportunity,” adding that the moratorium bill “makes no sense.”

But Goodwin said that the bill is “not anti-charter school.” 

“We have greatly increased the number of charter schools in our state over the past decade, and I have supported that. Charter schools provide many benefits,” Goodwin wrote. “However, they should be a vehicle to improve education across districts as well, not just in the charters themselves.”

Amore also stressed that the moratorium is “in no way an attempt to stop charter schools,” comparing the bill to the Massachusetts charter school law, which places a “hard cap” on charter schools in the state. The Massachusetts law established limits on the amount of charter school tuition that can be charged to a sending school district in any given year.

Though McKee argued that the moratorium will only “divide” legislators, Amore said that in doing so, the governor has “acknowledged that we need to work together and figure out the funding formula.”

“The fact that the governor acknowledges that there is a disparity in funding and is willing to work together on that, I think is a very good sign,” Amore said.

Despite an uphill battle to pass the moratorium in the House, as many of the charter schools have begun to enroll children, legislators remain supportive, Amore said.

“We have an obligation to educate all children, in all of our public schools,” Goodwin wrote. “We can’t do that properly if we are draining tens of millions of dollars from our traditional public schools to disproportionately support those in charters.”

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