PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Citing her experiences as a Providence public school parent and former student, mayoral candidate Nirva LaFortune pitched a new education plan Tuesday that includes a teacher academy, expanding pre-K and removing police officers from schools.

“For too long, we have allowed politics to take priority over our children,” LaFortune, a city councilwoman who represents Ward 3 on the East Side of Providence, said in a news conference outside George J. West Elementary School.

The six-page plan she released pitches a teacher residency program starting at Mount Pleasant High School, which she said has an “underfunded” teacher academy now. The proposed program would partner with Rhode Island College to train and support teachers in light of the ongoing teacher shortage.

On the first day of school Monday, Target 12 reported 101 classrooms were not staffed with a certified, full-time teacher, and 162 total teaching positions remained vacant. (The vacant classrooms will be covered by substitutes.)

LaFortune also proposed partnering with banks and major nonprofits to offer a forgivable loan or home down payment program that would incentivize teachers to live in Providence. She noted that one of her daughter’s teachers at Nathan Bishop Middle School lives in their neighborhood.

“One of the things that I love seeing is when she sees him walking with his children and his family down the street, and she knows that her teacher is part of our community and he understands the community that he serves,” LaFortune said.

LaFortune is running against Gonzalo Cuervo and Brett Smiley in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary for mayor. The primary winner will be the only candidate on the ballot in the general election.

In a mayoral forum on Monday night hosted by the Jewish Alliance of Rhode Island and moderated by a 12 News reporter, the candidates were asked how they would tackle the teacher shortage.

“I’ve heard from so many teachers in the last six months who tell me the joy has been sucked out of the job,” Smiley said. He said Providence should provide for stability and continuity for teachers, rather than constantly changing the plan for how to improve the district.

Cuervo said he worked as a substitute teacher briefly last year, calling it an “eye-opening experience” where he saw low morale among teachers.

“There’s so much acrimony, and so much anger and so much finger-pointing” amid the state takeover of the school system, Cuervo said. He said the district should provide consistency and adequate pay to teachers, and also proposed a homebuyer assistance program for teachers.

LaFortune’s new education plan also proposes accelerating school construction projects and offering a chance for older students to make money while helping with repairs in their schools. She would also propose to create an apprenticeship program for students to start careers after high school.

Calling the state takeover “disastrous,” LaFortune wants to return the schools to local control, but she has not proposed a specific timeline to do so. Her plan says she would “conduct an assessment” and create a plan to transition the schools back to the city.

“It is time to elect a parent, not a politician, to help get our children’s futures back on track as
they head back to school,” LaFortune said.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.