R.I. House OKs charter school restrictions

Vallery Otterburg, 12, a seventh grade student from Central Falls at the Segue Institute for Learning, a public charter school in Central Falls, and  fellow students shout out the school's motto during a rally at the State House Tuesday.  The Providence Journal/Bob Thayer

Posted Jun. 18, 2015 at 11:15 PM

PROVIDENCE — Charter schools suffered a major blow Thursday night when the House approved a bill that would require any new charter school to demonstrate that its expansion would not have a negative impact on the finances or academic performance of the sending public school district.

Meanwhile, another charter bill approved by the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare appears to give charters a little more breathing room. The latest version of the HEW bill would permit charter schools to expand provided the expansion plans were included in the charter’s original application.

However, a charter spokeswoman said this bill would still prevent Achievement First, a mayoral academy charter school in Providence, from expanding beyond its current K-4th grade configuration. Achievement First had planned on growing to include grades kindergarten through high school. It is opening a second elementary school this fall.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are designed to be models of innovation. Mayoral charter schools are led by the mayor of one of the sending school districts.

The legislature now has to reconcile two versions of effectively the same bill.

Both versions say that any charter expansion must first receive the approval of the local city or town council.

A Senate bill permits local school districts to freeze payments to mayoral academies at their current levels, which charter schools say would be financially disastrous. The Senate language also says that new no charters will be permitted until the school funding formula is revised to address inequities in funding between traditional schools and charters. The House bill does not contain this language.

“This is a permanent moratorium,” said mayoral academy spokeswoman Katelyn Silva. “It means children in Achievement First will be sent back to their neighborhood schools in fifth grade. It breaks my heart to think of those kids.”

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