In The News

Oliveira: Sen. Sheehan’s False Assertions

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I read with some interest the Guest Mindsetter commentary of Senator James Sheehan regarding his legislation (2018- S 2816), in which he suggests that our Rhode Island charter schools are not transparent or held accountable for their performance. I recently testified against his bill before the Senate Education Committee to debunk these false notions.

First, Sen. Sheehan perpetuates the false notion that charter schools are “privately-run” schools despite the fact that he knows otherwise. Charter schools are, in fact, public schools for the same reason that district schools are public. Charter schools receive their authority to deliver public education from the General Assembly through Title 16 of the R.I. General Laws. Thus, charter Schools are Local Education Authorities (LEA’s) just as local school districts. To suggest that a local district school board should have a designated seat on a charter school board is tantamount to suggesting that the South Kingstown School Committee should have a designated seat on the North Kingstown School Committee, which is just nonsense.

Second, charter schools are held accountable with far greater scrutiny and due diligence than any local district school. Charter schools are authorized for a specific period, usually 3 to 5 years. In order to maintain its public school authority, charter schools must demonstrate high-quality academic performance and organizational stability to both the R.I. Department of Education and the R.I. Council of Elementary and Secondary Education, which authorizes their charter. Among the factors they consider are the charter school’s academic outcomes, organizational soundness; regulatory compliance; and its fiscal health and stability. The charter reauthorization process is thorough and intensive and to suggest that charter schools are not held accountable for their performance is just plain false.

Sen. Sheehan also falsely suggests that our charter schools are not transparent. As public authorities, charter schools are held to the same public disclosure standards as any other public body – including local school districts. Charter schools are subject to the R.I. Open Meetings laws. Their meetings are open to the public and their meeting agendas and minutes are posted to the Secretary of State’s website for public disclosure. Charters are also subject to all public records laws and all school information, including financial information (budgets, audits, etc.) must be made available and disclosed to the public. Charter schools are just as transparent as any public body is expected to be. To suggest otherwise is, again, just plain false.

One of the things that Sen. Sheehan conveniently leaves out of his commentary is the performance outcomes of our charter schools. What matters most to local taxpayers regarding our public schools (including charter public schools) is are they performing?  As a sector, Rhode Island has some of the highest performing charter schools in the country. Our Rhode Island charter schools are diverse and innovative; academically high performing; organizationally sound and compliant with all regulatory mandates; and they are financially well managed and fiscally stable. The Rhode Island taxpaying public is getting exactly what they are investing in despite Sen. Sheehan’s false assertions.