PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After his plan to put washing machines in schools was temporarily scrapped by the state, Mayor Jorge Elorza said now he’s hoping the city can put washers and dryers in other city buildings used by kids.
“We’re looking at another place for them, namely our recreation centers,” Elorza said in an interview with WPRI 12. “There’s definitely a need for them.”
Elorza had proposed back in April to buy washing machines for city schools, a program aimed at combating chronic absenteeism. But state Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who took control of Providence schools away from Elorza and the city on Nov. 1, said she’s holding off on the proposal.
“It seems as though this initiative would take more time than originally anticipated, and there were some unanswered questions around what staff would take the lead, as well as potential issues surrounding liability and purchasing supplies on an ongoing basis,” Infante-Green’s spokesperson Meg Geoghegan said in a statement earlier this month.
Elorza still wants to buy the machines, but is now proposing to put them in rec centers, or even nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club, which would allow young people to have access.
The idea behind the program, which has been piloted in other states, is that students who don’t have access to clean clothes are skipping school.
“We have a lot of kids that are literally homeless,” Elorza said. “Whatever we can do to address the challenges that our families are facing, we’re going to do to address it.”
The $50,000 pilot was announced when Elorza proposed his budget for the current fiscal year, but is actually part of a separate document called the “master lease,” which is a budget for city equipment. The master lease is currently being considered for approval by the City Council.
Providence Interim Superintendent Fran Gallo, who now reports to Infante-Green, said in a letter to the council’s Finance Committee last week that she thinks the money could be spent elsewhere.
“This funding could be repurposed to pay for more services for multilingual learners, more school social workers or more culturally responsive teaching materials,” Gallo said in the letter.
She also listed some ways the district is working to combat student absenteeism, including family text notifications and counseling services.
“As chronic absenteeism drops over time, we may revisit the idea of washing machines as a way to further improve student attendance,” Gallo said.
Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Elorza, said the city has also reached out to companies like Whirlpool that sponsor laundry services in schools.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.