Achievement First charter school to submit expansion application, but Mayor Elorza given veto power

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Achievement First is moving forward with its application to grow the number of charter schools it operates in Providence, but the mayor will have final say of the proposed expansion.

The board voted Thursday to approve two resolutions, one to support an expansion application that would allow students currently enrolled in two Achievement First elementary schools to attend schools run by the charter management organization though high school, and the other to open another set of schools that would also serve students until they graduate high school.

But the board agreed to give Mayor Jorge Elorza veto power over the resolution to expand Achievement First’s footprint beyond its already-planned growth for the two schools it operates “based on the assessment that opening of this additional school will be alighted with the best interests of the Providence Public School District.”

In a statement, Elorza, who also chairs the board of directors for Achievement First, said the organization has “proven that they can deliver exceptional results for our kids,” but stopped short of endorsing a full expansion.

“As mayor of Providence, I also want to be sure that supporting expansions of models like AF doesn’t come at the expense of our public schools,” Elorza said. “As such, I am supporting their original plan for expansion but reserve support for an additional expansion until I know that it will not have an adverse effect on the education of the rest of the children in our city.”

Charter schools are also publicly funded.

The two applications will be sent to the R.I. Dept. of Education for further vetting and will ultimately need to be approved by the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education. A newly-passed state law requires the council to consider the financial impact on sending districts in charter applications.

Mayoral academies are similar to other charter schools, but they are governed by a board of directors that is chaired by a municipal leader. (In Achievement First’s case, the schools draw from students in Providence, Warwick, North Providence and Cranston.) The schools are allowed to operate independent of a traditional municipal teachers’ union contract, which supporters say gives them more flexibility when it comes to regulations such as the length of the school day or school year.

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