Here’s a head-scratcher: Four months ago the heavily Democratic Rhode Island General Assembly approved—by 30-6 vote—a teacher union-backed bill that would place a moratorium on the approval of new public charter schools and the expansion of already-approved ones, even though Governor Dan McKee swore he would veto it and Education Commission Angélica Infante-Green opposed it.
On Friday the Rhode Island General Assembly approved a bill, sponsored by two Democrats and also supported by the state teachers union, that would automatically enroll all public school students into the lottery for charter schools; parents would have to actively opt-out of the lottery for their children if they wanted to enroll them in a traditional district school.
WRPI quotes Democrat Rep. Karen Alzate of Pawtucket:
When I read this bill, it makes me believe that we are including communities like mine, where we are having a lot of the discussions that whether you’re pro-or-anti-charter schools, that means we are anti-Black and brown and Latino children. And this bill allows us to kind of clear that up. We’re saying everyone goes in, and we’re giving you the option to opt-out of this, so I think this is a great first step.
What’s going on? It’s unclear. Some have speculated that this is a way-too-clever-by-half end-run around public charter supporters in the state. After all, automatic enrollment would anger parents and provoke anti-charter sentiment, even with the dearth of options for parents stuck in Providence, where student outcomes are so bad the Wall Street Journal called the state’s largest district an “education horror show.”
According to Infante-Green, one out of five students attending Providence district schools is at grade-level in reading and one in eight is at grade-level in math. She supports the expansion of public charters, calling them “one of the most viable paths to high-quality and tuition-free education for a child in Providence and Central Falls.”
“Last spring, charter public schools received more than 20,000 applications from more than 10,000 students throughout the state,” she wrote. “More than 11,900 of these applications came from Providence, with an additional 1,500 coming from Central Falls. There is good reason for this strong demand. Charter public schools are currently one of the most viable paths to high-quality and tuition-free education for a child in Providence and Central Falls.”
Meanwhile, all who support student access to high-quality public schools, regardless of governance, are still scratching their heads.