December 3, 2023 Letter

I hope you had an enjoyable and meaningful Thanksgiving holiday. In today’s letter I describe an upcoming community meeting and place the Senate’s commission studying the Providence Public Schools within a broader context.

A.   Community Meeting

I invite you to join me on Thursday, December 21 at 6:00-8:00 in the Community Meeting Room at Rochambeau Library (708 Hope Street) to share your thoughts and ideas concerning the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Your feedback will help me do a better job representing our neighborhood and our State.

B.    The Providence Public Schools

1.     Study Commission

On Monday night, the Senate commission studying the Providence Public Schools will hold its second discussion meeting for commission members to share their thoughts concerning the public comments and expert testimony we received over the past several months. A third meeting will take place on Tuesday, December 12. These discussions will provide the basis for Senate policy staff to prepare a draft report with the aim of presenting it to the Commission in January for review, revision and hopefully approval.

As noted in my November 19 letter, the Senate charged the Commission with preparing a report with recommendations concerning (1) labor-management relations, (2) professional standards, (3) school-based flexibility and (4) accountability for educators. It is clear that the scope of this charge does not include all of the elements of a quality public education in Providence, and also that legislation alone is not sufficient to address the identified policy areas. With that said, the Commission has heard extensive public comments and expert testimony describing ways in which State legislation can advance quality public education in Providence.

2.     State Transition Regulations

The Commission’s work takes place within a broader context. Earlier this Fall, the Department of Education issued draft regulations to define, among other things, the conditions that will govern the transition from State takeover to local control. The current Order expires at the end of next school year. The draft regulations propose that the Council on Elementary and Secondary Education decide on the timing of this transition based on such factors as the progress of the Providence Public Schools to meet the benchmarks set at the beginning of the takeover and the capacity of local authorities (School Board, City Council and Mayor) to continue the progress achieved during the State takeover.

3.     Mayor’s Transition Cabinet

As described in this WPRI-TV report, Mayor Smiley recently formed a “Return to Local Control Cabinet” which, according to the report, was organized to “figure out what needs to happen before the city regains control of Providence Public Schools.” Some of the Cabinet members serve on the Senate Commission.

4.     Rhode Island Businesses For Better Education

Last month, a group of business leaders formed a new organization formed a new organization whose Memorandum of Understanding commits its members “to engage and collaborate with other businesses, business associations, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to stand up for student needs.” While the group has a statewide base, their spokesperson has stated that they are currently reviewing the conditions in Providence.

5.     Conclusion

Since the Study Commission began its work, a number of other organizations have taken steps to discuss and review the progress of the State’s takeover of the Providence Public Schools, and the transition back to local control. I see significant areas of overlap among and across the work of these projects. As the study commission enters its home stretch, I will seek opportunities to collaborate and coordinate with these other groups.