Education’s Future Resting on Charters in the Crossfire in Rhode Island


Advocates for charter schools in Rhode Island have begun emphasizing that they are “public schools of choice.”  The careful balancing act in that phrase proves that such schools are treading across difficult terrain.

On one side, traditional public school districts are complaining that charter schools take much more money per student than the district schools save by handing the children off. Charter schools also have fewer of the burdens that apply pressure to school budgets, like state mandates and pension costs, they say.

On the other side, private schools and affiliated organizations are pointing out that charters can skim their clientele. Families that would have gone straight to the private route try their luck with the charter school lottery, first, and with every new “public school of choice” that opens, a private school of choice finds it more difficult to stay open.

The immediate question for Ocean State charter schools is whether they can survive the crossfire over the next few years.  In the longer term, the question for residents of the state is whether a charters-only approach to school choice will actually reduce choice while draining funds.

Continue reading on

  • Mike678

    The true objective of the the anti-choice crowd is to eliminate the charters. Competition–especially competition that isn’t union based and make the traditional schools look bad–is a threat to the status quo. Attacks on charters vary–‘they cost districts money’ is the main tact. But don’t teachers unions add cost with no educational benefit? Can they address one cost without the other? Rhetorical question–they do…

    Moreover, the anti-choice zealots often ignore two things. One–the charters exist to provide an education to those less or ill-served by current public schools–not to save money. If the traditional schools did the job they were supposed to, there would be no demand for charters. Moreover, if you want to save money, phase out the expensive and self-serving public sector unions (if you think education is expensive, research the cost of ignorance). Secondly, towns and cities don’t pay for charter facilities–in my town, at least. For the true cost of education in your town, add in all the school construction/maintenance bonds, CIP, and bond servicing costs to the annual bill. Interesting that the anti-choice zealots forget this little fact when the argue to cut charter financing.

  • Joe Smith

    No, the problem is oversight of these charters was placed in the hands of an ideologically driven commissioner who would rather have (some) charter schools be riddled with ethics, health, safety, financial, and underperformance than have an honest, open, and transparent system where

    (1) charter schools are placed in the best location to truly serve the highest need students from actual failing/low performing schools;

    Mike 678 – this was your point (charters exist to provide an education to those less or ill-served) — hmm, check out the Compass School in South County. 6% free and reduced lunch. 94% white. It’s essentially a private school for upper middle / upper class white suburban parents – it supposedly draws from communities with 25-35% poor/working poor (FRL income eligible) and last year had 0 of those in its Kindergarden class. Now, look at its test scores, especially compared to the elementary /middle schools those students would go to in South/North Kingstown, Jamestown, etc.

    (2) innovation – remember that, it’s one of the main things charter schools are supposed to deliver – is actually occurring and being spread to traditional public schools

    Again, check out the annual report of the Compass School under “innovation’ — oh, yeah, it’s BLANK – in other words, the school itself reported ZERO innovative educational things it is doing..

    Charter schools have been around 15 plus years — why doesn’t RIDE publish their annual reports? Why can’t RIDE cite or advocate to the GA a single waiver given to charters that has proven successful so as to allow other public schools the same waiver/relief?

    (3) charter schools follow the same rules regarding ethics, OMA, APRA, financial reporting and are held accountable.

    Compass school (see the trend here Mike?) failed to file required financial reports for 4 years (yet RIDE renewed their charter) and nobody at RIDE or the auditor general seem to care

    Kingston Hill has reported a deficit multiple times – that should trigger a mandatory report to the OAG and a plan from its board — yet OAG and RIDE look the other way (including a falsified report by KHA board stating they had no deficit despite their own audit showing it).

    KHA awarded a nobid contract to the Groden Center — who by the way OWNS KHA – and it was approved by the KHA board, including votes from Groden Center employees..hmm, let me see, does your town council president present no-bid contracts for his/her own company and then votes to approve it?

    oh..and this is the same board that pays its “sponsor” employees salaries, including one over $100K in 2013, to do the bookkeeping, etc. imagine if your town treasurer was also responsible to do the town audit and report on it.. but that seems to be okay if you are a charter school board..

    KHA was approved by RIDE to expand enrollment despite an order from the Dept of Health that it could not expand until it had fixed its water issue..and KHA failed to include that in its expansion request despite written legal document from DOH saying any expansion must first include DOH approval..and RIDE *somehow* when this was brought to its attention failed to inform the Board of Ed..

    oh, this is the same school that skirted the “lottery” system by not picking any non sibling student in the actual lottery and then using the “waitlist” (where they now have access to the family demographics) to actually award enrollment..true RI fashion

    Yes, you are right that Charter school organizations may put up the facilities’ cost..but that means they also accrue the value of the asset..and what is the “accountability’ cost for that ..just read it from the Kingston Hill’s sponsor’s own words at one of their board meetings

    “The Groden Center floated a tax exempt bond to purchase the land for KHA, which they had to co-sign and put the Groden Center building as collateral for the bond. Therefore, the Groden Center has to have authority over the budget, strategic plans, financial health, and amendments to by-laws. This board cannot adopt a budget that the Groden Center thinks might jeopardize the best interests of KHA.”

    so now an unelected, unaccountable entity has total control over a PUBLIC school..hmm, and we are quick to castigate the PawSox owners or 38 studios..Sorry, I’ll take taxpayer funded facilities if the alternative is we give control to the banks or the financing organization..I believe that model is called a “private” school..and we have lots of those in RI..

    but as a first alternative, how about holding charter schools to taking at least students from sending districts in the same proportion for FRL as the sending district..people think Blackstone Valley Prep when it comes to charters (and that school may be doing all the great things charters should do)..but not all charters are BVP…

  • SteveH

    There is a huge demand for something more than what students are getting from regular public schools. This doesn’t come just from affluent families. Urban parents are desperate to move their kids somewhere else, even if the charter school may not be the best. Parents can tell if school A is better than school B, and they shouldn’t have to wait until a public school gets so bad that it fails. It could also be just to find a safer education where other kids are not disrupting class. Education is about the best opportunities for individual kids, and parents are the best ones to make those decisions. It’s about time that public education moved away from a 19th century monopoly model of education. Individual kids matter and parent choice matters. Affluent parents get choice, but urban parents have to put up with whatever they get.
    Make it work. Fix the problems. Give parents choice. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s going on. It’s really all about anti-choice and pro-monopoly. Teachers do not want their pedagogy and turf control questioned. They don’t want critical feedback from stakeholders. Apparently urban parents are stupid and don’t know what’s best for their kids.
    If you don’t understand and deal with the demand, then you are not solving the problem. If regular public schools cannot or will not separate the willing and able from those who are not, then don’t force charter schools to suffer under the same requirement. The goal of charter schools is to offer something different, like higher expectations and a new model of education. The goal is not to force charter schools to try to be better at the stinking bad assumptions and low expectations of many public schools.