This article originally appeared in The Providence Journal on December 15, 2016.
State education Commissioner Ken Wagner says the impact of Achievement First’s proposed expansion will be at least partially offset by a surge in enrollment in the Providence district schools.
Wagner, on two occasions, has said Providence is expected to gain about 1,000 students between now and 2020-2021. Achievement First charter school, in its plan before the Rhode Island Council of Elementary and Secondary Education, has proposed to expand to more than 3,000 students by 2025-2026.
But the latest data from the Providence public schools shows a decline in enrollment of about 1,136 students between now and 2020.
Enrollments continue to decline between 2020 and 2015 – by another 1,599 students. A private, non-profit organization called the New England School Development Council (NESCD) developed the enrollment projections for Providence earlier this year.
RIDE, however, is using enrollment estimates from 2013 contained in a report to the Providence School board from then-chief operating officer Bernie Luger. In his report, the New England Council reports that enrollments will increase by about 1,200 students between 2015 and 2020.
Asked about the discrepancy, RIDE spokeswoman Christine Lopes Metcalf said, “In recent conversations with Providence senior officials, they confirmed our understanding about an anticipated enrollment increase.”
One of the biggest concerns about the charter school’s proposed expansion is that it will drain millions of dollars from the traditional public schools because the dollar follows the child from the district school to the charter school. RIDE has estimated that Providence will lose $35 million a year if the charter school grows to full capacity in 10 years.
In letter sent Wednesday to Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, 14 members of the Providence legislative delegation urged the mayor to oppose Achievement First’s expansion to 3,000 students. The mayor, who chairs the Achievement First board, has said he will withhold making a decision on the full expansion (he supports a smaller one) until the charter school demonstrates that it will make up any fiscal losses to the district.
Bill Fischer, spokesman for RI-CAN, a pro-charter group, said, his group wants members of the General Assembly who have signed the letter to understand that there are conversations happening now on how Achievement First and Providence Public Schools can work together.
“The goal is to help support Providence,” he said. “There are many factors in play that will help make this integration possible, including a student census that projects Providence will need an additional 1000 seats by 2021.”
Achievement First runs two elementary schools in Providence with an enrollment of 720 students. It is part of a network of 30 charters in Connecticut and New York City. The Council of Elementary and Secondary Education is scheduled to vote on the proposal Dec. 20.