Charting the course 
        for public education...

Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association

From the Executive Director...

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  • 19 Dec 2016 10:59 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

    Since the Commissioner announced his support for the massive expansion of Achievement First charter school in Providence, I have spoke numerous times about the concerns of RISSA members regarding charter schools. RISSA is not against charter schools, but we demand public schools have the same flexibility and funding levels as those privately run.  Someone asked me recently what is the difference between public and charter schools, which are funded by the public:

    • Charter schools don’t serve all kids. Their selection is based on a stratified random sample. Parents to take the initiative have more agency than parents who don’t apply
    • Charter schools don’t serve kids with involved special education needs
    • Charter schools don’t serve English Language Learners the same way as public schools: it’s different to have an ELL program for a kindergartner than it is for a 9 or 12 year old who walks in the door; charters only add new kids off their waiting lists, not new enrollees
    • Charter schools can control their populations, public schools can’t: once the kids are enrolled, they can stay at the charter regardless of residence. Public schools serve residents of the district and deal with high levels of mobility
    • Because charter schools are funded at a higher per pupil level than kids in the district (no Career and Technical Education, no out of district special education, and  in the case of Achievement First, no State pension contributions) they can offer extended day child care, a huge benefit to working parents: public schools can’t
    • Charter schools can demand behavior contracts, public schools can’t
    • Charter schools serve families that are better off than the sending districts (lower free lunch, higher reduced lunch eligibility)

    Three years ago, with NECAP, once IEP kids were disaggregated from the population, there was next to no difference between public schools and charters. In fact, public schools often did better. I’m in the process of asking RIDE for an APRA request to disaggregate the PARCC scores.


  • 22 Dec 2015 10:15 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

    Last night I spoke at the Governor’s Fair Funding Working Group at the Northern Collaborative. I noted the following: 

    • Should Rhode Island allow two classes of public school students, one funded at a higher level than the other? Is the current funding model, where total district per pupil spending follows children to charter schools, sustainable to allow two systems of schooling?  I stated that RISSA wants one set of rules for the funding of school programs, and the Working Group needed to examine the data in an apples-to-apples manner. The current model:
    • Affects districts differently. Central Falls is funded almost entirely by the State and has productive working relationships with charters. Cumberland is funded primarily by local tax dollars which are diverted to the children attending charters.

    • Does not differentiate between the spending on student programs: Public schools’ per pupil costs include high need special education students, career and tech, retirement, preschool; charters do not bear the same costs.

    • Charter schools are not all the same. Mayoral Academies are not in the State Retirement System and do not have the same costs of the districts or regular charters.

    • Working group members mentioned the critical concept of money following the child. Money follows the child in only one direction: out of the district. There are no provisions for public schools to receive a comparable benefit.

    • Evidence was presented by RICAN (a shill for charters) that charters have debt service, rent, and capital costs in their budgets while public schools do not. Charters also continue to complain that they are shortchanged in the current practice of RIDE deducting charter school payments from the per pupil costs before transferring the funds to charters.Unbelievable: they want charter costs included in the per pupil payments so they can get a bonus on the payment. They also said that capital costs per charter were $1000/pupil in charters last year. Again unbelievable: this ”average” is based on a single new school (the Mayoral Academy in Cumberland) where the cost is $30,000/per pupil). To her credit Andrea Castaneda stated that capital costs were not annual and skewed spending in a single year, and this not included in the data under consideration.

    • Charter advocates state that parents must be dissatisfied with their district schools if they choose to leave. I stated that when I testified against the proposed charter in Woonsocket, the parents who spoke for the school said they wanted it so they could have the extended day and save on child care costs. The fact that the Mayoral Academy receives so much more per pupil allows them to offer services unavailable for those who remain in their home school.

    • Charter advocates expressed concern over the sustainability of their programs should the funding model change. I stated that West Warwick, East Providence, and Woonsocket had to be under State oversight because of their budget woes. Sustainability of public schools was in question unless the issue of parallel school systems was addressed.


    Our voice is heard on the Working Group with Georgia Fortunato and Patti DiCenso as members. Barry Ricci also attended the meeting.


  • 18 Nov 2015 11:44 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

    I appeared on PBS’ “A Lively Experiment” 

    I have included the link to the show below:

  • 03 Sep 2015 10:59 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)


    There has been considerable public discussion regarding the start of school (both time of day and date), school vacations, and differences between districts. Below are two links regarding the subject I’m sure we’ll be dealing with this year.

  • 03 Sep 2015 10:57 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)


    Thank you to Carol Blanchette, who ran the summer General Meeting on August 18, and the Program Committee for all their hard work. The meeting was well-attended by active and retired RISSA members.  We had a chance to meet and hear from Commissioner Ken Wagner, and our 2015 Paul Crowley Award winner, our friend Tom DiPaola. The highlight was the announcement of our Superintendent of the Year, Georgia Fortunato.

    Thank you to Mia Flores and our business partners from McGraw Hill for their excellent presentation and sponsorship of the event.

  • 16 Mar 2015 9:55 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)


    The Governor’s  budget was presented on March 12 to the Legislature. It is a very positive commitment to public schools. The highlights:


    ·         Funding formula is in the budget for 2016

    • ·         All day K will be mandatory in 2016, $1 million for transition costs

    • ·         $1 million for early childhood

    • ·         $1 million added to offset high cost special needs students

    • ·         Lift the housing aid moratorium, create revolving fund for low cost loans to districts

    • ·         Fully fund dual enrollment program

    • ·         Bussing to private schools is optional


    It remains to be seen what emerges from the 2015 Legislative Session, but with State revenues exceeding expectations in the last quarter of 2014, we remain optimistic.

  • 08 Dec 2014 10:21 AM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)



    In their book, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools,  David Berliner and Gene Glass state: “The mythical failure of public education has been created and perpetuated in large part by political and economic interests that stand to gain from the destruction of the traditional system,” the authors write in the book’s introduction “Many citizens conception of K-12 public education in the United States is more myth than reality. It is essential that the truth replace the fiction.”

    Myth 1: Teachers Are the Single Most Important Factor in a Child’s Education

    Great public schools depend on having first-rate teachers. However, many “reformers” and lawmakers inflate this importance to such a degree that it permits them to ignore all the other critical factors that influence learning. Accountability is important but, as Berliner and Glass point out, it has become the “cornerstone of the education reform movement, putting teachers in an untenable position.” Do teachers control the economic struggles of their student’s families? Do teachers have the autonomy to make every decision about curriculum and instruction?

    In my research How Districts Allocate Educational Resources in Rhode Island (Ryan, 2012), I found that spending on direct classroom instruction was statistically significant and positively associated with student achievement in reading, math, and writing with a small effect size. Good teaching does matter, and districts should focus resources in the classroom, not on supplemental programs, to obtain the best achievement results. However, the proportion of students receiving free and reduced price lunch is statistically significant and negatively associated with achievement. In fact, half of the differences in student achievement between schools are associated with the effects of poverty.

    Good teaching certainly matters. Poverty matters more. It is unfair and unrealistic to assume students from poverty can achieve and sustain growth at the same rate as their suburban peers, especially when we spend less on the schools in cities like Pawtucket and Woonsocket than we do in wealthier communities.  As we discuss Rhode Island’s educational system, we need to base our decisions on facts and date rather than opinion.

  • 17 Oct 2014 10:33 PM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)
    • The Board of Education meeting of October 16 was quite eventful. President Kathy Sipala and Bob Mitchell of Cumberland testified in favor of upholding the Commissioner’s decision to allow local control over charging a fee for summer school. The Board upheld the decision.
    • Far more contentious was the vote on preliminarily approval for the RISE Mayoral Academy in Woonsocket, which would draw from that city, North Smithfield, and Burriville. The charter school people were there in force (they bus parents in from other Mayoral academies), and the Board ultimately gave preliminary approval despite hearing that:
    • ·         The schools committees in all three communities were opposed
    • ·         The Town Council of North Smithfield was prevented from discussing the issue by the Council President who favored the school.
    • ·         The City Council in Woonsocket was opposed to the school.
    • ·         The loss of revenue to Woonsocket Schools will likely put the district in receivership.
    • ·         North Smithfield is a high performing district and there appears to be no groundswell for the need for another charter school

    Steve Lindberg of North Smithfield and I spoke against the proposal. Even though the plan was approved, I sense a turning point in the debate. Numerous speakers correctly pointed out that charters benefit the few at the expense of the many; they are private schools paid for with public funds; their approval by the Board can occur despite the objections of elected officials and without concern for the financial implications on the sending districts. Once created, there is no direct oversight of the charters by the elected representatives of the people paying the bills.

    We need to change the charter school legislation and change the funding mechanism. The State does not have the resources to fund two parallel school systems (district and charter) I am confident we will have a more receptive General Assembly next session.

  • 19 Aug 2014 1:35 PM | Judy Spremulli (Administrator)

    Last month I attended the summer meeting of the Association of State Executives of AASA in Ashville, North Carolina.  It was very informative to hear the concerns and political challenges of my counterparts, particularly from those in the South and Midwest.  Republican controlled legislatures and governors are in a "race to the bottom" by defunding public schools, promoting an arch-conservative agenda, and encouraging vouchers.  These efforts are funded by wealthy conservatives such as the Walton family and Koch brothers through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Committee).

    It's amazing that these states have not looked to the success of our neighbor Massachusetts as a model for reform.  When international test data is disaggregated by state, Massachusetts students score with high performing nations like Korea, even with our diverse population and wealth gaps.  It's all a plan to show how badly our schools perform so we can turn to privatization.  We have to remain vigilant on the topic of charters, which is a serious wedge issue in our state.


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