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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Do charter schools help or hurt education?

By Bob Plain in Rhode Island’s Future

Image result for charter schools vs public schoolsAs the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education prepares to consider a large expansion to Achievement First charter schools in Rhode Island’s urban core on Tuesday, the Economic Policy Institute has a new report indicating charter schools don’t function as well when they serve a large percentage of public school students.

“Despite expenditure cutting measures, districts simultaneously facing rapid student population decline and/or operating in states with particularly inequitable, under-resourced school finance systems have faced substantial annual deficits,” the new EPI report says.

The study looked at several cities that have about 20 percent of students enrolled in charter schools, such as Detroit, New Orleans and Washington DC among others.

While Providence currently sends about 14 percent of its public school students to a charter school, Achievement First’s expansion plans would likely put Rhode Island’s capital city over the 20 percent mark.

The out-of-state charter management company is seeking to expand from about 720 students this year to more than 3,000 in a decade, which will cost Providence Public School District about $35 million a year.

With 85 percent of AF students coming from Providence, that would almost double the number of Providence students who attend a charter school.

The new EPI report says such expansion is hurting students and school districts.

“Expansion of charter schooling is exacerbating inequities across schools and children because children are being increasingly segregated by economic status, race, language, and disabilities and further, because charter schools are raising and spending vastly different amounts, without regard for differences in student needs,” the new report says. “With the expansion of charter schooling, public districts are being left with legacy debts associated with capital plants and employee retirement systems in district schools while also accumulating higher risk and more costly debt in the form of charter school revenue bonds to support new capital development.”
The report suggests five action items for communities with a high percentage of charter school students, as Providence would be if the Board approves AF’s expansion request.
  1. Constrain the timing of charter school enrollments to facilitate budget planning
  2. Create incentives for districts and charter schools to share facilities
  3. Encourage districts to use existing intradistrict choice programs to facilitate staffing adjustments
  4. Link districts’ charter school payments to estimates of costs that the district can reduce in response to enrollment losses
  5. Provide transitional aid to districts experiencing large growth in charter schools
Providence City Councilor Sam Zurier, an education lawyer by trade, also offered a report that speaks to Achievement First’s expansion plan.

“I worry this application may threaten the continued viability of the Providence Public Schools, and ultimately the City of Providence’s future as a strong, vibrant and attractive place for families to live and send their children to school,” he said in a letter accompanying the report.

Zurier recommended the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education delay decision on Achievement First’s expansion “until there is an opportunity for Providence officials to review and comment upon RIDE’s fiscal analysis, and there is a meaningful dialogue among the stakeholders about what arrangement would best serve the future of all Providence students, whether or not they attend a charter school.”

UPDATE: The Council on Elementary and Secondary Education is considering Achievement First’s request to expand at its meeting tomorrow night but are not expected to vote on the matter until a subsequent meeting. h/t Dan McGowan.

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.