By MICHAEL DiBIASE K-12 education is fundamental to the state's ability to compete and provide economic opportunities to all Rhode Islanders. There is a compelling need to improve our K-12 system, which has only average student outcomes overall, and poor
K-12 education is fundamental to the state’s ability to compete and provide economic opportunities to all Rhode Islanders. There is a compelling need to improve our K-12 system, which has only average student outcomes overall, and poor outcomes for students in our urban districts, despite relatively generous spending by Rhode Island taxpayers compared to other states. These poor outcomes leave our students ill-equipped for college and the workforce and perpetuate a cycle of underemployment and poverty.
While Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council does not weigh in on many legislative issues, we feel compelled to speak out against the charter school moratorium legislation being considered by the General Assembly. This legislation would not only stop any further expansion of public charter schools for three years but also would take the extraordinary step of stopping the foundation of three public charter schools and the expansion of three existing charters already approved after a deliberate regulatory process by the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.
Public charter schools are one of the few bright spots in Rhode Island’s K-12 system. Overall, public charter schools in Rhode Island outperform the statewide average on the Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) tests, even though nearly four in five charter school students reside in Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, or Woonsocket, districts that are among the lowest performing in the state. The Rhode Island Department of Education has found staggering differences in student proficiency between charter school students and students from Providence and Central Falls – with outcomes two or three times better than the traditional public schools. No wonder that applications to get into a charter school outnumber available seats by more than 5-1. Thousands of students are waiting for an opportunity.
The primary argument against charter schools appears to focus on finances. Yet the financial rules for charters – money follows the child – are the same as for any other student that may enter or leave a district. Yes, traditional public schools will have less money, but only in proportion to the number of students they are obligated to teach. And while there may be legitimate transition issues related to funding, there is time to address these issues with targeted policy changes, particularly with abundant federal stimulus funds now available, instead of destroying opportunities for students from urban districts to receive a better education.
Rhode Island must improve its education system and student outcomes. All legislation affecting K-12 education should be considered through this lens. Wiping out an entire category of educational opportunity which has demonstrated improved student outcomes is a step in the opposite direction.
Michael DiBiase is president and CEO of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.