No Reason to Stop Charter Schools
Improving our K-12 public schools to a level approaching and hopefully surpassing those of Massachusetts and other states consistently recognized for educational excellence is one of the most effective tools our state has to build economic prosperity for all Rhode Islanders.
To create more opportunities and higher-wage jobs for more people, Rhode Island schools must provide our children with a better chance to reach their full academic potential. We must stay the course on reforms recently enacted by the General Assembly and being implemented by Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green and her team at the R.I. Department of Education – in the city of Providence and throughout the entire state.
Commissioner Infante-Green is committed to ensuring that every school is a place that can nurture the dreams of our young people, deliver on high standards and foster high achievers, not only in the classroom but in life. She relentlessly pursues a vision for our schools in which students come first. The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has great confidence in the commissioner, and believes she deserves the support of Rhode Island’s business community and other partners willing to contribute to the strides we have already made despite what everyone would acknowledge has been a period of unthinkable challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the additional headwinds the commissioner faces, is proposed legislation in the General Assembly to halt the expansion of public charter schools in the state for three years. The reality is that by their very nature, not all charter schools will be successful. Our elected officials have a duty and responsibility to ask hard questions about what the data reveals as to performance, whether charter schools outperform traditional public schools, which methods used by charter schools are working and which are not.
But there is no reason to halt charter growth for three years while these questions are studied and considered. We need to continue to act boldly. We cannot wait. Our students cannot wait. Those three years are critical to the intellectual, physical, social and emotional development of the many children who would benefit from all the exceptional work being done in our public charter schools.
The Chamber agrees with local parents and community advocates when they say that far too many children are stuck in inadequate schools and thousands are relegated to waiting lists for entry into high-quality charters. We echo their call that now is not the time to put a moratorium on charter schools or the aspirations of families of kids who will be our state’s future. It is unjust to ask those families to wait any longer for us to fix what is ailing Rhode Island’s education system.
Limiting the school choice options parents desperately need is not going to help the next generation of Rhode Island citizens and workers. A freeze on public charter school development will leave our children further behind and take away opportunities from the very people who need and deserve them the most.
Laurie White is president of the Chamber. Christopher D. Graham is office managing partner at Locke Lord LLP in Providence and chairman of the Chamber's Education Council.