14 state lawmakers oppose Achievement First expansion in Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A group of 14 state lawmakers from Providence have penned a letter to Mayor Jorge Elorza urging him to “remain strong in your opposition” to Achievement First’s proposal to grow from 720 students in the current school year to 3,112 students over the next decade.

But Elorza reiterated Tuesday he wants the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education to approve the full expansion plan when it meets next week, in part because he has the final say over the charter management organization’s actual ability to more than quadruple in size by the 2026-27 school year.

“While in favor of continued innovation in public education, we believe innovation should be occurring in our existing public schools, including existing charter schools,” the group wrote in its letter. “It is clear we cannot afford two parallel school districts, and as elected officials we cannot support a proposal that would materially damage our students’ right to an adequately-resourced education.”

The letter was signed by state Sens. Frank Ciccone, Maryellen Goodwin, Gayle Goldin, Joshua Miller and Dominick Ruggerio as well state Reps. Edith Ajello, Joseph Almeida, Chris Blazejewski, Charlene Lima, John Lombardi, Daniel McKiernan, and Aaron Regunberg and incoming Reps. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell and Moira Walsh.

The lawmakers also said that approval of Achievement First’s expansion would make it “exponentially more difficult” for them to continue to fight for more state education aid to Rhode Island’s capital city, which will receive more than $235 million in the current fiscal year.

Achievement First, which currently operates two elementary schools out of the same building on Hartford Avenue, is seeking continue serving its students through middle school and high school. It also wants to open another K-8 school that would eventually feed into a high school.

Elorza has fully supported allowing students from the existing elementary schools to attend middle school and high school with Achievement First, but has said he can’t support the third elementary school unless the organization finds a way to pay for it.

The R.I. Dept. of Education (RIDE) has estimated the city could lose out on $35 million a year once 3,112 students are attending Achievement First schools because the state’s funding formula requires that the vast majority of per-pupil funding must follow a student no matter where they attend public school.

The Achievement First board of directors, which Elorza chairs, voted in September to give the mayor veto power over the organization’s ability to open a third school. Elorza has said he doesn’t have a timeline for when he’ll make a decision on the larger expansion.

At least one of the senators who signed the opposition letter to the mayor appears to be backtracking from his previous position on the expansion.

In a letter to RIDE on Sept. 23, Ciccone urged the council to support Achievement First’s growth “because of what I hear from parents, community members and the school staff.”

“I hear that their ‘scholars’ are growing their brains, and love learning; that it is a joyful place to go to school, that every child feels safe, that the longer school day helps students grow more rapidly and often negate the needs for before and after school care, and that parents and visitors are always welcome,” Ciccone wrote.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan