Providence mayor Jorge Elorza caught a lot of people off guard yesterday during the Achievement First board meeting when he, seemingly out of nowhere, floated the idea of them expanding by way of closing a lower performing charter school.
If there had been a record player in the room, I suspect it would have screeched to a halt as folks in the room tried with all their might not to blurt out the words, “are you f*** kidding me?” And please excuse my profanity but the idea is so absurd and awful that it warrants strong language and strong push back.
Luckily, Dan McGowan of the Boston Globe was in the room and took to Twitter to let us in on the craziness unfolding in front of him.
Push back to the Mayor’s out-of-left-field idea came fast and furious, not only in the room where the conversation was actually happening but also on publicly on Twitter as fellow board members quickly — and rightly—distanced themselves from the mayor’s suggestion.
Even state education commissioner Angélica Infante-Green weighed in quickly with a statement to distance herself from the mayor’s comments.
For those who may have thought the mayor was just talking crazy and that his idea to close a charter school would die as quickly as it came, sorry to disappoint. Elorza went on the radio the next day and doubled down on his nonsense. Keith Oliveira, the former head of the Providence School Board and current director of the league of charter schools, fired back.
To reiterate Dan McGowan’s twitter commentary and subsequent write-up in The Globe, Mayor Elorza has zero authority to close any charter schools. But there is, of course, a political upside for Elorza in this fantasy he has created in his mind: if he could just swap the dollars that attach to the students in the schools he’d close with the dollars that attach to the students who would fill the additional seats at Achievement First, he could escape—or at least minimize—the wrath of those who have hated Achievement First since before it opened in Rhode Island.
The most glaring problem with Elorza’s suggestion—and general educational rhetoric of late—is that he makes zero mention of quality. In his politically motivated mind, a charter seat is a charter seat and each one represents a finite number of dollars and cents. He doesn’t see faces or families or middle schoolers who still can’t read. He sees dollar signs and how they impact his budget and his political brand.
He has attempted to defend his position by saying that he has “25,000 Providence students to worry about” — and while that is true, it’s hard not to notice that he only counts the children that attend PPSD. He ignores the students who live in Providence and already attend school outside of PPSD—but even more appalling is that he erases the thousands of students whose parents were trying to get them out of the system BEFORE the Johns Hopkins report was released. The majority of students on the waitlist at Achievement First are from Providence—a quick calculation tells us that he has no qualms about denying an alternative to those 12 percent of the students and families he is supposed to serve. Has he forgotten that for the upcoming year, Achievement First received 3,160 applications for 190 spots?
And let’s be brutally honest—Elorza would prefer to close a charter school —over which he has zero authority—than to even mention closure of the lowest performing and most dangerous schools in his city, the schools for which he is responsible. He is eager to run and ask RIDE to do the very hard thing that he himself lacks the courage and political will to do. That is not leadership.
Elorza’s time has come and gone. The fact that he cares more about holding onto the dollars that attach to children than whether or not they are actually learning is unacceptable. And disqualifying.
Elorza has officially jumped the shark this time. Let’s hope the true educational leaders find a way to serve kids with him finally out of the picture.
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