Moratorium on charter schools makes no sense

Mar 31, 2021 by

For those who cannot afford to move or pay for education, a public charter school is a choice and an opportunity.

Dan McKee, a Democrat, is the 76th governor of Rhode Island. 

More than a year into the pandemic, as Rhode Island students increasingly return to full in-person school, we know a lot about the impact COVID-19 has had on learning.

Lost learning time has negatively impacted Rhode Island students in every city and town and every demographic group. However, based on recent studies, it has been particularly devastating for students of color and students in low-income households. Now, as the parents of our most vulnerable students evaluate the learning options available to their children, the General Assembly is contemplating placing even stricter limits on their choices by placing a moratorium on public charter schools. It makes no sense.

In Rhode Island, some parents can afford to pay for a different option when a neighborhood public school isn’t working for their child. They can buy a home in a new neighborhood; or decide to pay both taxes and private school tuition. For those who cannot afford to move or pay for education, a public charter school is a choice and an opportunity. Parents in Pawtucket, Central Falls, Providence and Woonsocket in particular, who know their children will have a better chance in a public charter school, do not deserve to have the door of opportunity slammed in their face by the state.

To do so would be a mistake in any year but especially in this year of historic challenge from the pandemic and historic opportunity from unprecedented new federal investment in our public schools. Lost learning time is compounded by unmet student mental health needs that have only been intensified by the isolation, grief and uncertainty during the pandemic. The economic recession makes transitions to college and career more difficult for many Rhode Island youth.

Yet to support our students, Rhode Island will receive a historic amount of federal education funding through the American Rescue Plan. Over $400 million is slated to come into our school districts to support public education. That’s five times what Rhode Island received from Race to the Top under President Obama, and we have to spend it in half the time. There’s great work ahead of us to ensure we spend it wisely.

Quite frankly, a charter moratorium should be the last thing we debate, yet we seem to all be expending a lot of time and energy on it. Now is the time for Rhode Island to be focused on creating more high-quality educational opportunities for all students — not limiting high quality learning options for parents mostly at the lower end of our socio-economic ladder. A moratorium on public charter schools does nothing to improve our public education system while the moratorium debate itself only serves to divide us. Meanwhile, the families most affected have no time to wait.

Federal dollars for schools in the American Rescue Plan provide a historic opportunity to put every Rhode Island student on a path to success. We can provide more support for our teachers and school staff.  We can expand early childhood education and college and career access for high school students. We can address the social and emotional needs of students who need those supports more than ever. Let’s not waste this moment pausing, we have already been doing that for over a year due to the pandemic. Now is the time to reopen, grow, reimagine and unite for our students and families. The opportunity requires our full attention.

The charter moratorium being considered by the General Assembly is not the starting point for the work we need to accomplish. It isn’t necessary, and it doesn’t solve our problems. Our team wants to partner with teachers, school administrators, municipal leaders, the Rhode Island Department of Education, members of the General Assembly, teacher unions and others to get the job done. We need everyone to be all-in on this plan and all-in on supporting our students.

Source: Opinion/McKee: Moratorium on charter schools makes no sense

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