The state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education approved Achievement First’s controversial 10-year expansion plan that will result in the multi-state charter school in being responsible for educating more than 10 percent of the Providence public school students.
The vote was 5 to 3 with Colleen Callahan, Larry Purtill and Jo Eva Gaines opposing the expansion.
“This proposal needs to be uncoupled,” Gaines said, just before the vote. She thought the council should have had the option of approving a new Achievement First middle and high school, so current students could stay with the school, without the additional expansion.
She also said the traditional public schools are effectively being punished because the state allowed for inadequate education. “If they are not performing and we are not doing anything about it we only have us to blame,” she said. “I think it’s our fault, not the schools fault.”
Purtill, the president NEARI, said he’s been impressed with Achievement First’s results. But, he said, “I want some assurances programs are not going to be cut for our most vulnerable kids before I can vote for this.”
Daniel McConaghy, a council member who supported the expansion, said charter schools and traditional public schools need to work together to improve education for all students. “I just think this conversation needs to be about and rather than or,” he said.
Callahan feared the council was violating state law by not properly considering the fiscal impact on the district. “In my opinion [the expansion] will have a very serious fiscal and programmatic impact on the district,” she said. “How do we make a deliberative decision that we are charged with under the law.”
State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner disagreed, but Rep. Jeremiah O’Grady, who authored the new state law, said – in no uncertain terms – that the Department of Education did dismiss his legislation.
“I’m hear to suggest that the Achievement First expansion proposal that’s before you tonight might not be properly before you because I believe the obligations on this council to perform a rigorous financial and education impact on the sending district has not been done,” he said. “It’s been suggested earlier tonight by someone in the audience that by endorsing this document as satisfying the requirements of Senate Bill S35 that this council is thumbing their nose at the General Assembly … I would suggest a finger is being employed but I’m not sure it’s the thumb.”
Several other well-known progressives addressed the council prior to the vote to ask members to reject the expansion.