Rhode Island · School Talk

Stop Forcing Students into Your Schools Over Money

Tim Duffy is the executive director of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees and he wants to see underperforming charter schools close. Seems fair, until we consider the fact that he never calls for the closure of district schools that have quite literally failed generations of students and often perform as badly or worse than the charters he’d like to close. It’s outrageous that holding on to the tax dollars children bring the district is more important to him than ensuring all students get the education they deserve. If districts want more money, they should open up the many available seats they conveniently choose to hide. 

This tribalism over school governance models stands in the way of Rhode Island’s students getting what they need. Whether it’s for Career and Technical (or Pathways) programs or charter schools, students should be able to attend the school that is the best fit for them. It is the immovable-by-design system that needs to adjust. If Mr. Duffy would like to have an honest conversation about the potential need for school closures, he should start by including district schools on his wish list.

There is a reason why so many of Rhode Island’s elected officials opt their own children out of the system Duffy and others work so hard to protect—they have the money to do so and they do not believe that their zoned public school is the best option for their children. Good for them. This includes Governor Raimondo and Senator Gayle Goldin—both have children with dyslexia and both chose the Hamilton School to meet those needs. According to the school’s website, the price tag is $51,555

Poor children with reading disabilities have no access to a place like that.

Other than the cost prohibitive Hamilton School, there is hardly a school in the state that knows how to teach struggling readers and dyslexic students to read. Which district school would Mr. Duffy choose for his children if they had dyslexia, the most common learning disability that exists? 

Under 10 percent of Latino students in Woonsocket read on grade level—where would he tell his Latino friend from Woonsocket to enroll his child so that his tax dollars stayed in the district? 

Or the Black father in Providence who has a son entering 7th grade and knows that under 5 percent of black 7th graders in Providence read on grade level? What should he do so that his tax dollars stay in the district? 

Or the low-income mother whose daughter has a reading disability and has been repeatedly passed through the grades even though she still can’t read? I’m asking serious questions to a man who recently lobbied against right-to-read bills that would guarantee evidence-based reading instruction to all public school students in Rhode Island.

Moreover, there’s an assumption buried in Mr. Duffy’s call to close charter schools while ignoring district school performance that must be challenged—he assumes that a district is entitled to the dollars of every student who lives there, regardless of whether they meet a child’s needs or even posses the capacity to meet a child’s needs. This insistence on making everything about money demonstrates a complete disregard for putting students at the center of the education conversation. Loyalty to one delivery system of education over another hurts kids. Actively blocking any parents, but especially poor parents of color, from having the self-determination that comes with options is indefensible and reeks of racism and classism. 

We live in a free society, a society that owes it to our children to fund students instead of systems. There isn’t a school on the planet that can meet the needs of all students and districts need to stop thinking they are somehow entitled to the dollars that attach to all the children who live within their boundaries. Our children do not belong to our zip code assigned educational bureaucrats and it’s insulting, but also quite telling, that almost every policy conversation about our children focuses on the dollars and cents that come with them. Students are not widgets and forcing them into schools that don’t serve them well or meet their needs academically, emotionally or physically is harmful and wrong.

What do you think?

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