First, if you have not already done so, please go read Tom Hoffman’s blog posts on Achievement First. Tom has compiled important facts about organization in the lead up to these last week’s forums, and everyone needs to know this information.
Secondly, here’s the Providence Journal report on last night’s hearing in Cranston. My overall assessment is that while I fully expect Achievement First to get permission to put their schools in—Broad wouldn’t give them that kind of money without a reasonable expectation of a return—nonetheless, I think we schooled the charter school supporters something fierce. And, it was fun!
I would estimate 200-300 people in attendance—enough to move the meeting from city hall to the Cranston East auditorium, but not enough quite to fill that auditorium. This was a surprise overflow crowd—and it became clear relatively quickly that the majority of people in the crowd, whom they had not been expecting, were in opposition. In fact, their supporters were a hard core of maybe 30 people, almost all of them sitting front and center, a conspicuous knot of organized lackeys in a room full of angry Cranston parents and teachers. As I was chasing two small children, I did not get the opportunity to take notes. I can say that there were many eloquent speakers before I was called on, and I was quite impressed with the large group of Cranston educators, parents and community members who called out Mayor Fung and the whole charter school racket. So here, in brief, is what I said.
I’m a teacher in Bristol and I’m here because this is not just about Cranston, or Providence, but about what they’re doing all over. You’ve heard of “an injury to one is an injury to all”? Well, they’re injuring us all!
Achievement First is a non-profit organization. It may surprise you to learn that the Providence Place Mall Corporation is also a non-profit organization—for the “services” it provides the city of Providence. In return, the mall does not pay roughly $17 million annually in property taxes to the city. Non-profit doesn’t mean not for profit, it means that you’re a tax haven for the money contributed by your wealthy backers, like the Broad Foundation who gave you the million dollars to expand into Rhode Island. Be honest about what your status means.
It’s nice to hear that you’re working with mayors, but why not work with existing school committees? Or could it be that you’d rather not have to deal with an elected, representative body that’s accountable to the community? You’d prefer to work with an executive who’s less directly accountable, following the preferences of the Broad Foundation? It’s funny how that works—they always talk about “accountability” for students, parents and teachers, but they themselves seem to be exempt from accountability.
When Rhode Island was applying for Race to the Top funds, it revised its fair funding formula. My district is getting cut massively, as are other regional and suburban districts—oh, and also Central Falls, a clear indication of the “fairness” of the formula—but, we were told, this was to benefit the underfunded urban districts. But then I hear that Providence has a $100 million budget gap, and that Cranston schools had to cut $7 million from their budget. It raises the question: are you starving us all of funds so that you can force people into charters? Because it sure looks that way!
Phew! That was fun, especially with the cadre of charter supporters sitting right in front of me, glaring as I called them out. J’accuse, tas d’escrocs! Take that!
I would add a couple things also, that I didn’t get to say last night. For one, I find it interesting that we were told that enrollments were declining at the five Providence schools that were closed—though no one could find clear documentation of the decline in enrollment. Could it be that this was a planned decrease in enrollment? That they were accounting for an estimated future drop in enrollments in Providence along the lines of, say, 900 students?
Secondly, I think we need to be quite careful about how we frame the issue between communities, who we exclude and what it means for the justification of our opponents. It sounded like a certain Cranston city councilman (I don’t remember who and I’m not super-familiar with Cranston politics) talked at the last forum about how hard Cranston had tried to keep Providence kids out of their system. This is a narrow-minded approach that unfairly labels the Providence kids as “a problem” and sets up a barrier between two communities that have a lot more in common than they have in differences. And it provides grounds for charter school supporters to accuse our side of wanting to condemn a certain section of the student population to a sub-standard education. It makes the problem one of “I want this for my community, everyone else be damned” instead of attacking the charter movement for what it is: a movement to siphon public money into the private sector while parents become “consumers” and lose any control whatsoever over their children’s schools, and teachers are stripped of their union rights. It’s the same sort of pedantic local opportunism that I heard from Bristol folks when Gist came to our district to defend the funding formula, and it’s a losing strategy. It makes their side look reasonable and justified, when they are not.
Thirdly, it is quite stunning how the charter movement frames itself as “the new civil rights movement”. As a friend from Cranston put it while we were walking out of the event, they make it sound like people who want their kids’ public schools to be adequately funded and not replaced are actually racist! When someone from the Cumberland charter school talked about wanting to expose her kids to “diversity” that they couldn’t get in Cumberland, frankly it was quite condescending, like, “I still want to live in my lily-white suburb, but I want to pretend that we live in a racially integrated world by sending my kid to a school where there are token students of color so we can feel better about that.” It was striking, also, that all the people who spoke in favor of the charter school who live in Providence—who complained that they didn’t have good alternatives to “bad” public schools—were all white! My Cranston friend, who’s white but whose wife is Mexican-American, pointed out: Cranston already has plenty of diversity. There’s the black family next door, the Vietnamese family across the street, etc. Why do they want to screw that up with a charter school?
The last thing I want to discuss is where we go from here. The Board of Regents votes on the school on June 16—and we should prepare to have a presence at that meeting. I fully expect that they’ll approve the AF proposal. But I don’t think it has to end there. I think we put a huge dent in the ideological armor of charter schools, and I think we can potentially keep up the pressure, keep them from expanding, and maybe even convince the general public not to send their kids to these schools. Imagine if AF couldn’t even get the 900 students for their elementary schools that they seem to want! The road ahead is long and treacherous, but I think we can aspire to lofty goals.
Meanwhile, everyone PLEASE COME to the RALLY TO DEFEND PUBLIC EDUCATION this Friday, June 3 at 4:30pm at the Providence City Hall. See you there!