In The News

My Turn: Keith A. Oliviera: Ignoring 15,000 desperate R.I. families

By Keith A. Oliviera
Posted Jan 23, 2018 at 6:31 PM
Updated Jan 24, 2018 at 9:07 AM

Providence Journal

I read with interest Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci’s Jan. 11 Commentary piece, “Choice costs too much,” which explains his desire to put a “pause” on public education choice is Rhode Island. My response: Tell that to the families of the 15,000 students that applied to enroll in public charter schools last year.

The fact is, Rhode Island families want choice and it is purely self-serving for Superintendent Ricci to suggest otherwise. There are literally thousands of Rhode Island families that believe traditional public schools do not respond to the needs of their children.

They want schools that not only deliver a high-quality educational program but also schools where their children feels safe, supported and part of a welcoming community of learners. They want schools that are innovative and explore different avenues of teaching and learning. Above all else, families want the opportunity to choose an educational environment that best fits the needs of their children.

For many Rhode Island families, particularly low-income families of color, that is difficult to find in traditional public schools.

The right to a free public education is the student’s right. Our state education funding formula provides the access to that right through the “per pupil entitlement” and parents choose where they will exercise that right by sending their kids to either a district or charter public school.

The taxpaying parents of 97 students from Chariho that Mr. Ricci references have chosen to exercise their right by sending their kids to charter schools. They most certainly would tell Mr. Ricci that the $1.1 million cost was well worth the public investment in their child’s public education.

Superintendents like Mr. Ricci and some school board members lament that traditional districts have fixed costs that they must meet even with the loss of funds going to charter schools. As a former president of the Providence School Board, I can tell you that the “fixed costs” they lament are most often contractual obligations that they themselves have negotiated and entered into. Perhaps Mr. Ricci should focus on the contractual obligations he enters into and their associated costs instead of scapegoating taxpaying families who want nothing more than to choose what is best for their children.

Mr. Ricci points out that “charter schools are held to performance measures that include student academic performance; financial performance; organizational performance; and legal, regulatory and charter compliance,” and that “In Rhode Island, an existing charter has never been revoked.”

He’s right. The fact that Rhode Island charter schools go through such a rigorous accountability review and have never had a charter revoked speaks to the high quality of our charter schools and how well they serve students and families. Our charter schools are high-quality, organizationally sound and financially stable. They are in high demand by families and well worth of our public investment.

Finally, Mr. Ricci suggests that, after 20 years of choice in Rhode Island, we “pause in order to assess the benefits of choice on our students and the entire education system.” I would suggest that if there were such an analysis, let’s start by asking the families who have exercised their choice, what are the lifetime “benefits of choice,” of their child having a high-quality education — and putting a value on that!

Keith A. Oliveira is executive director of the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools.