Friday, December 02, 2011

RI's Odd Charter School Law

I'm more and more confused about how RI ended up with our current charter school law. The law was amended in 2010 to be more "charter-friendly," to help with Race to the Top, and was generally considered a victory for reformers. I've blogged ad nauseum about the idiosyncrasies of the mayoral academy model already. I've certainly wondered if some of its signature provisions -- particularly requiring equal enrollment for each sending town or city -- were actually put in there as compromises with the unions. At this point I think they weren't, based on the difficulty I've had getting people in opposition to the Achievement First proposal to take advantage of these quirks when AF and RIMA try to avoid them.

It would be much easier for AF to start an "independent charter" as defined by RI law. There are two disadvantages to this. First, mayoral academies don't have to pay the prevailing wage, participate in the state retirement system (which was just "reformed" anyhow), working at a mayoral academy does not count as years of service as a teacher, and generally employees are not treated as public employees. Doesn't seem like a big deal to me, particularly if the whole thing is regulated by a cooperative Board of Education, but apparently it is a poison pill to AF.

The second requirement, added in 2010, is that "Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish an independent charter school" are limited to existing non-profits that exist for a reason other than running schools or colleges and universities. I haven't heard of other states doing this (have you?), and I have no idea what the logic is. In particular it doesn't seem to encourage the creation of schools. The relationship between the applying non-profit and the school isn't defined in the statute, but it suggests that while the school will have its own governance structure, the actual charter is held by the non-profit. Either that or once the school starts, the applying non-profit has a peripheral role. But if the charter is held by the non-profit, what happens if the non-profit decides it doesn't want to run a school anymore, or simply dissolves? Then what?

Beyond that, it would seem to discourage independent charters from scaling up significantly. You can imagine Providence College or Progreso Latino starting an independent charter, but five? It would be weird.

I just find the whole thing puzzling.

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