Rhode Island

lead image

Rhode Island

1995
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
30
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
8,000
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
123
out of
240
Total Score

Download the 1-Pager

Download Now

Rhode Island’s law provides a fair amount of accountability but caps charter public school growth, allows only one authorizing option, and provides inadequate autonomy and inequitable funding to charter schools.

Rhode Island’s law is still in need of significant improvement, most notably by removing the remaining caps on charter school growth, providing additional authorizing options for charter applicants, ensuring authorizer accountability, providing adequate authorizer funding, increasing operational autonomy, and ensuring equitable access to capital funding and facilities.

*Since Rhode Island does not allow full-time virtual charter schools, the highest score possible is 228 for the remaining 20 components. However, we converted this score to one that is comparable to the states that allow full-time virtual charter schools. Rhode Island received 111 out of the 228 points available for the remaining 20 components, or 49 percent. We then multiplied the total points possible for all 21 components (240) by 49 percent to get a score comparable to the other states (117).

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Rhode Island law permits 35 charter schools statewide. There are currently 30 charter schools operating in the state.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Some
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Rhode Island law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Under Rhode Island law, the only authorizer is the state board of education, and only after the charter school has been approved by a local school board or the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education.
Rhode Island law requires local written support for a proposed network charter school. “Written support” means a resolution or ordinance granted by the town or city council for each proposed sending district where the council considers the fiscal and educational welfare of the municipality and students after at least one public hearing. “A network charter school” is a charter school that encompasses or will encompass elementary and secondary schools or multiple elementary or multiple secondary schools. The definition of a “network charter school” exempts charter schools authorized as of the effective date of the act that creates “network charter schools.”

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

While the law does not require the legislature and governor to regularly review the performance of the state board of education as an authorizer, they can do so at any time. In addition, the ability of the state board of education to continue authorizing can be removed by the legislature and governor (the entities that gave it that authority).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
No
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Yes
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Yes
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
No
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Rhode Island law does not include any of the model law's provisions for adequate authorizer funding.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
No
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

Rhode Island law provides for application elements for all schools. It also provides additional application elements specific to conversion schools. Regulations provide additional detail regarding the contents of a proposed application, including information if the use of a service provider is proposed.
Rhode Island law provides that the state commissioner of education hold a minimum of two public hearings and allow a 60-day public comment period on the issue of whether or not to approve a charter application. Regulations offer additional detail, but there is no requirement that an in-person interview be held. It does not require authorizers to issue a request for proposals.

Rhode Island law requires local written support for a proposed network charter school. “Written support” means a resolution or ordinance granted by the town or city council for each proposed sending district where the council considers the fiscal and educational welfare of the municipality and students after at least one public hearing. “A network charter school” is a charter school that encompasses or will encompass elementary and secondary schools or multiple elementary or multiple secondary schools. The definition of a “network charter school” exempts charter schools authorized as of the effective date of the act that creates “network charter schools.”

Rhode Island law requires that when considering a proposed charter or an amendment to a charter for expansion, the state council on elementary and secondary education shall place substantial weight on the fiscal impact on the city or town, programmatic impact on the sending school district, and the educational impact on the students in the district to ensure that the proposal is economically prudent for the proposed sending school district and for all students in the sending district.

Rhode Island law requires that the mayor from each city or town, or in the absence of a mayor the city or town council via a resolution or ordinance, shall approve the participation in a mayoral academy’s catchment area for a proposed charter or an amendment to a charter for expansion.

Under Rhode Island law, the decision by the authorizer to approve or deny an application along with its reasons and conditions are to be made in writing and available to both the applicant and the public at large.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
Yes
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
Some
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
No
6F
Application approval criteria.
Some
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Regulations detail charter contract requirements, including the creation of a final charter contract document which details various things including: the power to operate as a local education agency or as a public school within another local education agency; the obligations of the authorizer; and academic and operational performance expectations (including student academic goals, post-secondary readiness for high schools, organizational performance including financial issues, student and teacher attrition, and parent and student satisfaction).
Regulations state that charter contracts are granted for a fixed term not to exceed five years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Yes
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Yes
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Some
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

Rhode Island law and regulations require charter schools to provide a yearly report to parents, the community, the local school committee, and the state commissioner of education, which indicates the progress made by the charter school during the previous year in meeting the charter objectives.
Regulations give the state commissioner of education the responsibility and authority to conduct or require oversight activities.

Regulations provide that the state commissioner of education can institute charter revocation proceedings, during which the commissioner notifies the school in writing of the facts and issues that justify a revocation and offers the school a reasonable length of time to attain compliance. Regulations allow the commissioner to place schools on probation for a specified period of time in lieu of revocation.

Rhode Island law requires all charter schools to adhere to financial record keeping, reporting, auditing requirements, and procedures in the same manner as required of local public school districts and in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations.

Rhode Island law requires all charter schools to continuously monitor their financial operations by tracking actual versus budgeted revenue and expense.

Rhode Island law allows individuals or groups to complain to a charter school's governing body concerning any claimed violation of the provisions of the charter law by the school. If, after presenting their complaint to the governing body, the individuals or groups believe their complaint has not been adequately addressed, the law allows them to submit their complaint to the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education who must hear and decide the issue pursuant to state law.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
Yes
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
Yes
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

Regulations provide that the state board of education may conduct a review of a school’s charter. They also note the data that should be considered, including evidence from a renewal application, by the state board of education for making decisions regarding renewal. While the regulations mention a “renewal application,” it is unclear if such applications are required of all charters as part of the renewal process.
State law provides that charter renewal contracts may be up to five years, although it does not provide detail on what should determine the length of the continuance. If the state board of education does not conduct a renewal hearing for an existing charter school, the charter shall be renewed for another five-year period.

Rhode Island law states that a charter may be revoked for material violations of those provisions contained within the charter, failing to meet education objectives, fiscal mismanagement, or violation of the law. The law also provides that a charter may be revoked if after three consecutive years of operation, the school is not a “high-performing charter school” that has demonstrated substantial progress improving student achievement and has the management and leadership necessary to establish a thriving, financially viable school.

After denying or prior to non-renewing a charter, state law requires the state department to hold a hearing on the issues in controversy. Regulations add further detail in that schools must be notified in writing about the concerns, given reasonable length of time to correct the concerns, and offered an administrative hearing in which the school has the burden of proof to demonstrate it has met the terms of the charter and other applicable legal requirements.

While the law requires the state to provide its reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing, it does not require that these decisions be made in a public meeting.

Regulations require that in the event of a closed school, the state commissioner of education must coordinate student and record transitions (but nothing is mentioned about timely parent notification or property and asset disposition).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Some
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
No
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
Yes
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Yes
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Some
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Some
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
N/A
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Rhode Island law allows charter boards to contract directly with third parties for the purchase of books, instructional materials, and any other goods and services which are not being provided by the sending school districts. Statute also requires that information be placed in charter applications regarding any support services the school plans to obtain directly from third parties and under what terms and conditions those services are to be provided, to the extent known. Rhode Island law prohibits charter schools from contracting with for-profit management organizations.
Regulations require the following within charter applications: evidence of the educational service provider’s success in serving students; terms of the service contract including the roles and responsibilities of the governing board, school staff, and the service provider; performance evaluation and enforcement measures; compensation structure and fees; methods of contract oversight; and conditions for renewal.

Regulations state that no charter school board can enter into a contract that would have the effect of reducing the board’s ultimate responsibility for the operation of the school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
Yes
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
Yes
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
Some
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
No
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

State law provides that district charters (those approved by the local school board and the state board of education) are still bound to the district’s collective bargaining agreement unless the parties to the collective bargaining agreement approve variances requested by the school. Rhode Island law states that teachers and administrators in district and independent charter schools (those approved by the state commissioner of education and the state board of education) are entitled to prevailing wages and benefits as enjoyed by others in the district for district charter schools or others in the state for independent charter schools. Such schools must also pay into the state pension system and provide tenure. These provisions restrict the fiscal autonomy of a given school board. Mayoral academy charter schools are not subject to the above restrictions.
Rhode Island law provides that charter schools may negotiate and contract directly with third parties.

Rhode Island law requires all charter schools to have governing boards. It also requires mayoral academy charter schools to have a board of trustees or directors that is comprised of representatives from each city or town participating in the school and chaired by a mayor of an included city or town. It also subjects the governing boards of all charter schools to the open meetings law.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Some
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

Rhode Island law provides that charter schools are open to any student in the state.
Rhode Island law requires charter schools to comply with the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Rhode Island law requires that the combined percentage of free or reduced lunch students, special education students and limited English proficiency students enrolled at a charter school must at least equal the combined percentage for the district as a whole.

Regulations indicate that schools are allowed to exempt siblings as well as students of teachers and school founders from participation in the lottery (as long as it is not more than 10% of enrollment).

Rhode Island law requires charter schools to conduct a lottery if the total number of students who are eligible to attend and apply to a charter school is greater than the number of spaces available.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
No
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Rhode Island law requires exemptions from particular state statutes, state regulations, school district rules, and collective bargaining provisions to be requested within the charter application.
Rhode Island law requires charter school teachers to be certified.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
No
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

Rhode Island law exempts independent and mayoral academies from district collective bargaining agreements, although they must identify the sending school district(s) rules from which they are seeking variances within the application. The law also provides that district charter schools are bound by the district collective bargaining agreement unless the parties to the collective bargaining agreement approve variances requested by the school.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
N/A
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Rhode Island law is silent regarding these arrangements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Rhode Island law is silent regarding charter eligibility and access.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

Rhode Island law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding. Rhode Island law provides some general provisions regarding federal funding for special education students in charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Some
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
No
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

The state law includes some of the model law’s provisions for equitable operational and categorical funding, but there is no evidence of the amount of funds charters receive versus districts.
State law generally provides that funding for each charter school shall consist of state revenue and municipal or district revenue in the same proportions that funding is provided for other schools within the sending school districts. It also provides that funding additional to that authorized from the sending school districts may be allocated to the charter school from the sending school districts to the extent that the combined percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, students with limited English proficiency, and students requiring special education exceed the combined percentage of those students in the sending school districts as a whole.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Some
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Some
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Rhode Island law provides that a school district may access aid for reimbursement of school housing costs for school district sponsored charter schools, and that charter schools not sponsored by a school district may apply for 30% reimbursement of school housing cost on a need basis.
State law provides that charter schools can access bonding support through the Rhode Island Housing and Education Building Corporation.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
Some
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
No
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
No
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
No
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
No
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Rhode Island law requires all charter schools to participate in the relevant employee retirement systems, except for mayoral academy charter schools, which have the option to participate.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
Some
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Rhode Island law does not allow full-time virtual charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
N/A
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
N/A
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
N/A
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
N/A
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
N/A
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.