Cranston, R.I. (January 27, 2021) – The National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) President Larry Purtill on Wednesday testified before the RI Senate Committee on Education in favor of Senate Bill 13 (SubA) related to a moratorium on the expansion or creation of charter schools.

“NEA Rhode Island strongly supports this legislation,” said Purtill, “To be clear, we do not oppose the concept of charter schools as originally designed. We do, however, have grave concerns about the amount of money being drained from traditional public schools to support charter schools. That funding loss results in cuts to programs and staffing and, amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, the loss of funds becomes more dramatic. We agree with the bill sponsors that a pause in charter expansion and creation is needed.”

As a member of the K-12 Council of the Rhode Island Board of Education, Purtill voted against the three recent expansions and three new preliminary charter proposals just a month ago for these very reasons. The drain on traditional public schools is detrimental to the students left behind when a district loses funding. While charter proponents argue “the money follows the student,” districts still need to provide transportation and special services, employ school nurse teachers, maintain class size, and pay into the pension system to name a few fixed costs.

“As districts look to cut costs due to lost revenue, students inevitably lose out on programs and enrichment opportunities they may not be able to access or afford on their own. Many times, this occurs in schools with a high percentage of students of color and students living in poverty. We need to be increasing funding and programs, not cutting,” said Purtill.

The impact of the proposed charter schools on local public-school resources, programs and services needs to be examined and weighed against the program loss for all the district’s students. In a time when we need more resources, more school nurses, more librarians, more teachers for English Language Learners (ELL), more mental health counselors, and major improvements to buildings that have suffered years of neglect – sending money out is not the answer.

“What happens to the student who is not one of the few thousand attending a charter school? This is about funding and programs and resources for all Rhode Island students,” said Purtill. “Now is not the time to drain money from communities. We need to address systemic failures, institutional neglect, disparities in funding and racial inequities that impact our society and, yes, our schools. Taking funding away from the majority of students, mainly in our urban core, is a disservice to all our students and impedes the educators who are going above and beyond to educate them.

“Loss of revenue and cuts in programs only increases the inequity and the ability to close the achievement and cultural gap. Our focus should be successfully guiding our students and our communities through the concurrent public health and economic crises that currently exist, not diverting funds to a parallel public school system.”