Charters alive in Rhodey!

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The mayor of my hometown, Cumberland (RI), Dan McKee has gained recognition among charter folks nationwide for a new concept, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, which he is proposing along with a number of Ocean State mayors. These would be in essence regional charter schools driven by mayors tired of the continued failure within the school districts. It is great to see local leaders in RI standing up, much like Mayors Fenty (DC), Bloomberg (NY), and many others across the nation. (Editor’s note: Boston may get there, it seems, this election.)

Last week, the Rhode Island House Finance Committee turned its nose at the new schools, cutting $1.5 million in proposed aid for two new charter schools. Yesterday, after U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in saying that RI risked losing access to the Race to the Top Funding, the Legislature came to its senses. As I noted in a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal, the Finance Committee was bucking

a very clear priority of the Obama administration. In a number of settings, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it crystal clear that the new administration wants to “create a network of charter schools” — “high-performing” schools that are “accountable” and will “absolutely be closed down” if they fail children.

Rhode Island risks falling further behind Massachusetts and other states, unless lawmakers are willing to embrace the mayoral academies and charter schools. Restore the funding.

As a June 24 ProJo editorial made clear

The public clearly wants more charter schools in Rhode Island. No new ones have been authorized since 2004, yet students are clamoring to get in, with a waiting list nearly as long as the number fortunate enough to attend. A “Lottery Day” held this spring by eight charter schools showed just how much pent-up demand there is, especially in poor neighborhoods: 3,545 applications for 559 new openings.

Well, the good news, as a friend noted in an email is that

Last night, just before 2am, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed Article 1 of the budget with funding for Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley in it.

Congratulations to the mayors and everybody else that worked to jump the hurdles in Li’l Rhodey! Fantastic work by a bunch of dedicated reformers.