Achievement First expansion plans put on hold


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Charter school Achievement First currently serves more than 1,100 students in elementary, middle and high school.

Three years ago, the Rhode Island Department of Education approved Achievement First’s proposal to expand to serve 3,100 students, but now that plan is now on hold.

“We have a waiting list of over about 3,000,” Achievement First Elementary School Principal Kevin Lohela said.

Achievement First opened its second Rhode Island location this year and now they want to move forward by opening a third.

“We put kids first and foremost at the front of everything that we do. We make sure that they have an incredible, rigorous, and loving education every day,” Achievement First Middle School Principal Andrew Walker said.

As a mayoral academy, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza sits on the board and has veto power. He said he will not expand the number of seats until he determines it won’t negatively impact the city’s finances.

If a child leaves a traditional public school to attend a charter school, the funding follows the student. A spokesperson for Elorza pointed to a 2016 internal audit that showed expansion of Achievement First would cost the city $265 million.

“We’re interested in making sure we’re serving as many students as we possibly can,” Walker said.

The mayor had suggested closing an underperforming charter school in the city and allocating those seats to Achievement First.

While he doesn’t have the authority to do this, Achievement First leaders say they do not support the idea.

“No, that is not the point here, the point is all children having access to great schools,” Lohela said.

There is a board meeting at the end of September. Achievement First leaders say they’re hopeful Elorza won’t veto expansion plans so they can open the new school as soon as possible.

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