PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Leaders of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, the Providence Teachers Union and the American Federation of Teachers wrote Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo today, urging her to ask the state K-12 Council to reject or table a charter school expansion proposal for Providence, saying it would be financially devastating and signal that the state is “throwing in the towel” on meaningful school turnaround plans.
In a letter signed by RIFTHP President Frank Flynn, PTU President Maribeth Calabro and AFT President Randi Weingarten, the leaders urged Raimondo to stand by her November 2019 pledge to “stay the course” to transform Providence schools.
“Please don’t turn your back on Rhode Island schools and the progress you promised in Providence,” they wrote.
The leaders said a charter school expansion, which the Board of Education’s K-12 Council will consider today, would be financially devastating because it would drain money from neighborhood public schools and would demoralize the Providence community and signal that the state is “giving up—throwing in the towel—on turnaround plans” that the governor praised in June 2020 as meaningful reforms.
In current contract negotiations, the PTU has offered several detailed proposals aimed at a student- and community-centered contract. “Taking $19 million from Providence public schools next school year to unnecessarily expand charter schools would say that the state is no longer committed to this process—and no longer believes in the promise of transformational change in the Providence schools or in the leaders you [Raimondo] chose to spearhead that change,” the letter said.
The educators also said the charter expansion proposal ignores the COVID-19 pandemic, unless it’s being advanced to exploit the health crisis for a privatization agenda. They noted that this comes at a time when the state is facing a $275 million budget shortfall, and that kids need more support and as many services as possible now and in post-pandemic times. “We’ve seen this before, such as in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, when a crisis was used to dismantle and privatize a city school system that once answered to the community. We can’t let that happen in Rhode Island.”
Instead of diverting millions of dollars to charter schools, the leaders said the state should focus on ensuring crucial safety protections, which it didn’t do when schools opened. As of mid-December, Rhode Island had the nation’s highest rate of new COVID-19 infections per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Our schools and our state are facing a crisis. This is not the time for the council to try to take much-needed education funds and divert them to charters.”