Supporters, many poor people of color, spoke passionately about justice and opportunity in Providence schools. Opponents, mostly well-employed white people, spoke about economies of scale and efforts to undermine public education.
This was the scene last night as the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education listened to public testimony on a proposed expansion to the Achievement First mayoral academy. It’s a tough sell for charter school opponents, who expect the Council to approve the expansion.
The out of state charter management company, chaired locally by Mayor Jorge Elorza, wants to expand over the next ten years from under 1,000 students to more than 3,000. About 85 percent of students come from the capital city. If approved, Achievement First would educate 11.2 percent of Providence public school students and syphon more than $30 million a year from traditional public schools.
Elorza addressed the state education council last night. “Achievement First PARCC scores have demonstrated what many of us already knew to be true,” he said. “All children, regardless of where they lives or what their socioeconomic status is, are capable are achieving incredible academic results.”
Achievement First not only has data to suggest its education model works in its recent standardized test scores, but the school is also in high demand. More than 9 students applied for each available seat in the lottery to attend.
Elorza supports a smaller expansion, one that would allow AF students to stay in AF schools through high school. WPRI reports the mayors of the four cities Achievement First serves are somewhat split on the expansion plans.
Other education officials are not. Even some who support other charter schools.
Providence School Board member Mark Santow, whose own children attended a local charter school, opposes the expansion. Read his written remarks to RIDE here.
“We have a zero sum situation where the good people of the Providence Public School District and the good people of Achievement First are pitted against one another other,” he said last night. “Under that circumstance, I don’t think the people charged with the responsibility of educating the children of this city, which includes me and includes you, can ethically approve this expansion because of costs. We are syphoning off money from overburdened, underfunded public school to create a second, less accountable one.”
WPRI’s Dan McGowan captured Santow’s remarks on video:
The Council is expected to vote on the proposed expansion on December 20. You can read Achievement First’s full application packet here.
State law “requires the Council to place substantial weight on the fiscal impact on the city … and the educational impact on the students in the sending district to ensure that the proposal is economically prudent … for the proposed sending school district and for all students in the sending district,” says the application, which the state Department of Education supports.
“RIDE has concluded that the proposal submitted by Achievement First is both academically and economically prudent, and will result in high – quality academic opportunities for Rhode Island’s students – particularly the approximately 15,000 students that currently attend a Providence school that’s been identified for many years as in need of dramatic improvement,” says the application cover letter.