When Mayor Jorge Elorza raised concerns last year about a charter school organization’s expansion plan in Providence, he had a very practical reason. He was in charge of a school system with 24,000 students, and he feared that the district would not be able to absorb the financial hit if too many students left the traditional school system for public charter schools.
Now Elorza, a Democrat who is openly considering a run for governor in 2022, is publicly supporting an even larger expansion of the Achievement First Mayoral Academy, and he has also agreed to chair the board of directors for Excel Academy, the Massachusetts-based charter school organization that wants to open a school that would eventually serve nearly 2,200 students from Providence, North Providence, and Central Falls.
The mayor’s about-face in such a short period of time would ordinarily be viewed as a stunning policy shift, but he maintains that his evolution is also a practical one. In short, the state has taken over the Providence school system, so Elorza no longer has the same worries about the district’s finances that he had a year ago.
“Not having to take into account the finances and how we’re going to balance the budget, it’s a much a different consideration for me,” Elorza told the Globe on Monday. “Now it comes down to: Are they delivering for students? And the answer is unequivocally yes.”
The Rhode Island Department of Education took control of Providence schools on Nov. 1, 2019, several months after researchers from Johns Hopkins University released a scathing report that showed widespread dysfunction with nearly every facet of the district. Elorza publicly supported the takeover, although it has been less of a partnership between the city and state than he initially envisioned.
2011: A majority of the Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter school.