Opting Out instead of Opting In: RI House wants to change charter school system

Education

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the current system of charter schools, parents need to actively enroll their children into a lottery in hopes of getting an open slot.

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday night to automatically enroll all eligible public school students into the lottery for charter schools, with parents having to actively opt their child out if they prefer the traditional public school in their community instead. 

Supporters say by automatically enlisting all eligible public school students into the charter school lottery, barriers are broken down. No longer does a parent have to find the resources to enlist a child and actively advocate on their behalf.

“When I read this bill, it makes me believe that we are including communities like mine, where we are having a lot of the discussions that whether you’re pro-or-anti-charter schools, that, that means we are anti-black and brown and Latino children. And this bill allows us to kind of clears that up. We’re saying everyone goes in, and we’re giving you the option to opt-out of this, so I think this is a great first step,” Democrat Rep. Karen Alzate of Pawtucket said.

However, some lawmakers, who supported the idea, questioned the logistics of such a change of system. 

Republican Rep. Brian Newberry, who represents Burrillville and North Smithfield, questioned if parents would all know to actively opt their child out of the lottery system if they preferred them to attend a traditional public school instead.

He used his own son as an example saying that his son got into a charter school and wanted to test it out for a day before committing to that type of education. Newberry argued that other children might want to do the same, making the process a long and tedious one to get students enrolled from the lottery.

“Maybe, instead of in the past, where 100 people got into the lottery and maybe 9 or 10 for whatever reason decided not to go, now you might find 70 or 75 decide not to want to go. So you go to the next 70 or 85. And those kids may need the opportunity to try it out, or they may need time for the school district or RIDE to call the parents and find out where they want to go,” Newberry said. “By the time that school gets actual enrollment of students who want to go there, you might be halfway through the school year.”

In response, Rep. Gregg Amore of East Providence, the democrat deputy majority leader, said while that is a concern, this bill would simply give the Rhode Island Department of Education the freedom to move forward with this type of system and figure out how it would work. 

“This bill does give broad leeway to RIDE to develop this process so that we’re not going into it just to get it done. There is no date-specific other than the dates listed in the bill, when the process has to start,” Amore said.

The bill was sponsored by Democrat Rep. Edith Ajello of Providence and Democrat Rep. Joseph McNamara of Cranston and Warwick says it has the support of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.

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