March 19, 2023 Letter

I hope you enjoyed your celebration of St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days. When my children were little, I used to serve them (with the aid of blue food coloring) green scrambled eggs on March 17, to their delight (initially) and annoyance (later on). This week’s letter will discuss the School Department’s revision to the Turnaround Action Plan, the City’s electricity aggregation program and the non-plurality voting systems study commission.

1.     Updating The Turnaround Action Plan

When the State takeover began in 2019, the Providence School Department developed a Turnaround Action Plan (TAP) which presented at slides 31-34 a series of metrics by which to measure the success of the takeover. For each of the metrics (such as percentage of 8th grade mathematics students achieving proficiency), the TAP stated the 2019 performance level (which was 7.4%) and the 5-year goal (in this case 50%). Unfortunately, the TAP did not provide a year-by-year set of annual benchmarks to measure progress towards the ultimate goal. Thus, for example, during the 2022-23 school year, only 10% of the 8th grade mathematics students achieved proficiency, making it difficult to predict with confidence that the District will reach the 50% goal in four years. (Because of COVID, the 5-year goals have been extended by two years.)

In light of this, I introduced legislation last year that the General Assembly passed in modified form as Bill S-2838B which, required, among other things, that the School Department update the TAP to include meaningful annual goals in 16 areas by a deadline of September 1, 2022. Unfortunately, the original, deficient TAP remains on the School Department’s website, and in correspondence I had with the School Department through the end of February, 2023, the Department updated the TAP in only 5 of the 16 required areas.  

At a School Board meeting this past Wednesday, the School Department presented a TAP Update that includes additional meaningful annual goals, bringing the total to 10 or 11 of the law’s 16 required areas. This improvement is appreciated; however, we are now more than 6 months past the deadline. In my lawyer’s world, we would call this material non-compliance with a clear legal obligation.  Even if we allowed some room for error, a student who takes a 16-question quiz and gets 10 or 11 answers correct will receive at best a grade of D+ (68.75%). I am hopeful that the School Department will, in the coming weeks, work with the School Board (whose input the School Department has, to date, essentially ignored) to improve its compliance with the law to a level closer to what our schools properly expect from our students.

2.     The City’s Electricity Aggregation Plan

In recent weeks, Providence received a letter from the City announcing our participation in its Community Electricity Program. The letter informs us that we are automatically enrolled in the program but can choose to opt out at any time. I have not personally been involved in the selection or implementation of this program, but I recommend your reading an informative letter from Council member Sue Anderbois, a letter from Council Member Helen Anthony and a Report describing a similar program in Massachusetts. These two Council members are holding a Zoom on Monday, March 27, which you can connect to using a link in Councilwoman Anthony’s letter above.

3.     The Non-Plurality Voting Systems Commission

The next meeting of the Non-Plurality Voting Systems Commission will take place on Wednesday, March 22 at 2:00 p.m. in the Senate Lounge. The Commission will hear from FairVote, an organization advocating for ranked-choice voting and the National Council on State Legislatures, a non-partisan research organization that will provide a general overview to supplement the one the Commission received on March 1 from Professor Myers.