Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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July 3, 1998

TO THE HONORABLE, THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

I am transmitting to the Secretary of State, with my signature. House Bill 98-H 7363, Substitute A, As Amended, entitled "An Act Relating to Education Charter Schools."

This Act amends the charter public schools law by expanding the opportunities for establishing charter schools in Rhode Island. I support the purpose of the Act because public school systems need to provide an alternative within the public education system for innovative learning opportunities.

I believe that charter schools can pioneer innovation in education. Charter schools can provide opportunities for teachers, students, parents, and community members to establish and maintain public schools that operate independently but within the existing public school structure. The charter also specifies how to measure student and teacher performance.

As you know, I have urged that state law be changed to encourage the establishment of more charter schools in the state by allowing nonprofit groups, colleges and universities to collaborate with local school districts to establish schools. The charter school legislation that I introduced this year would have given charter schools more independence from school districts and would have allowed parents and teachers to work together to maximize educational opportunities.

This Act incorporated the changes that I introduced and it further amended the law to provide for expanded opportunities for charter school development. It affords charter school professionals with a leave of absence of up to four years to allow them to return to work in the school district, as well allowing for certified employees to unionize, if they so desire. The Act ensures that teachers and administrators are entitled to prevailing wages and benefits similar to other staff in the district. This Act protects students if a charter school fails to meet the objectives stated in their charter and requires that charter schools establish sound financial reporting and auditing requirements and procedures. The amendments added to this bill strengthen the language prohibiting religious organizations from operating charter schools and requires that admission to charter schools be done by lottery.

This Act, however, raises important concerns that will need to be addressed as we continue to refine the development of charter schools in this state. We must ensure that charter schools enhance rather than hinder the improvement of our public school system.

The most critical issue that needs to be addressed is how charter schools are to be financed. When the act was debated before the General Assembly, the need to address the funding mechanism was identified. Under the law, the Commissioner of Education will be required to develop a-funding mechanism for charter schools and report his findings to the General Assembly by December 31, 1998. We must ensure that the funding of charter schools does not dilute funding for other public schools.

In granting any application for establishing a charter school, the Board of Regents must ensure that the school will meet the requirements of the charter school legislation. Charter schools must meet the educational needs of its students and should serve to improve schools across the system through innovation and diversity.

In order to address these significant issues, I will recommend a formal process involving all interested parties including school administrators, parents, and teachers and their labor organizations to achieve consensus on these important issues. Without consensus, we will likely achieve little in advancing the development of charter schools.

For the foregoing reasons, I sign this act into law.


Sincerely,

Lincoln Almond
Governor