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R.I. Proposal Would Provide More School Choice, With Some Restrictions

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A plan by Rhode Island's governor could open up more choice for parents to select schools outside of their neighborhoods. But the schools first would have to choose to take children from outside their areas.  

Gov. Gina Raimondo is proposing the School and Family Empowerment Act as part of her budget proposal, which Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner announced in March.

The act would allow traditional public schools to apply to become Empowerment Schools, which would be free of certain regulations and give teachers and administrators more autonomy. Empowerment Schools could choose a special focus, like dual language or science. See a one-page description of the Rhode Island education plan.

It sounds kind of like charter schools, but those are separate. Krieger said the Empowerment Schools would be more like magnets. As part of that freedom, Empowerment Schools could choose to accept students from outside of their neighborhoods.

"A school would have to apply to be an empowerment school and include open enrollment as one option," said Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for the commissioner's office at the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Still, even if open enrollment was allowed, Empowerment Schools would have to enroll neighborhood students first.

The act would include $1 million for the first year for schools to make their empowerment plans. Krieger said he expects about five to 10 schools would be in the first round.

Before that, the legislature would need to approve the plan through the budget. A few hearings have been held, but no votes have been taken, Krieger said.

This isn't the only way Raimondo is showing her support for school choice. Earlier this month, Raimondo said she would veto a bill that would restrict the growth of charter schools.

To learn more, WPRI has a breakdown of what the empowerment plan would do.

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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