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Poll: 63 percent of Latino parents in Providence support charter school expansion

The Latino Policy Institute also found that 12 percent of Latino parents say they lack access to high-speed internet and 45 percent struggle to afford groceries

Marcela Betancur, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University
Marcela Betancur, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams UniversityCourtesy of Latino Policy Institute

PROVIDENCE — In Providence, 63 percent of Latino parents support a proposed expansion of charter schools, while just 10 percent oppose having more charter schools, according to poll results released Monday by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

The findings come as the General Assembly considers a proposed three-year moratorium on new and expanded charter schools in Rhode Island, and as Governor Daniel J. McKee has opposed the moratorium legislation, threatening to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The poll found that 56 percent of Latino parents in Providence have favorable views of charter schools, compared to 45 percent who had favorable opinions of public schools overall in their area.

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“I was surprised how high their favorability for charter schools was compared to traditional public schools,” Latino Policy Institute Director Marcela Betancur said. “It’s important to keep in mind how parents view the charter schools.”

In conducting the poll for the Latino Policy Institute, Change Research surveyed 261 Latino parents in Providence between Feb. 5-12. Respondents were recruited via Dynamic Online Sampling and SMS to a web instrument and could take the survey in English or Spanish.

Betancur said the Latino Policy Institute decided to ask about charter schools as part of the poll even before the moratorium proposal came before the Assembly this year.

“It’s a conversation we have been having for years,” she said. “It’s a conversation that, many times, is had in a vacuum. We have thousands of parents in the city and in other communities of color who are seeking charter schools as options but face long waits. It’s a nuanced and important conversation.”

Opponents of charter school expansions say the schools will siphon badly needed funding away from already cash-strapped school districts because per-pupil funding follows students to charter schools.

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In February, the state Senate voted 30 to 6 to place a three-year moratorium on new charter schools and charter expansions, and the House Finance Committee held a hearing on the proposed moratorium last week.

McKee – a former Cumberland mayor who was the driving force behind Rhode Island’s mayoral academies, a form of publicly funded charter schools – testified against the bill, and the House Finance Committee plans to continue taking testimony in a meeting that starts at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Charter school advocates have released polling data, from ALG Research, that shows 53 percent of Rhode Island voters support increasing the number of charter schools in the state, while 32 percent oppose an expansion. That poll found broad support for public schools (60 percent favorable/29 percent unfavorable), public charter schools (55 percent favorable/21 percent unfavorable), and teachers’ unions (51 percent favorable/29 percent unfavorable).

The Latino Policy Institute poll also asked Latino parents about the state takeover of Providence public schools in 2019, and it found that 28 percent believe the takeover has made no difference while 31 percent are not sure if it has made any difference. Of the 41 percent who had noticed a difference, 29 percent thought it changed for the better while 12 percent said it got worse, the poll found.

“That is a big problem,” Betancur said. “We are a year and a half into this turnaround, and a little over a quarter haven’t really seen any difference. That is a really important conversation to have.”

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She noted the pandemic hit just as officials were unveiling turnaround plans. But, she said, the results indicated that “there has not been enough communication about what the turnaround means on a basic level – what it means to you and your children and your family.”

The poll found that 92 percent of Latino parents in Providence are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their community.

While the poll did not collect comparative data for all of Rhode Island, Betancur said she suspects the rate of concern is higher among the Latino population since it has tested positive at a disproportionately high rate since the outset of the pandemic. According to the latest age-adjusted data from the state Department of Health, Latinos have tested positive at a rate of 1,179 per 100,000, compared to 703 per 100,000 for the white population.

The poll found that 74 percent of Latino parents think the Providence school district is doing a good or excellent job of keeping children safe from COVID-19, while 80 percent believe the district is doing a good or excellent job protecting teachers and staff.

But there was no consensus about how schools should proceed now: 30 percent of parents favor full-time in-person learning, 35 percent favor virtual learning, and 35 percent prefer a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning, the poll found.

The poll found that 12 percent of parents lack access to reliable high-speed internet, and 45 percent have struggled to afford groceries during the pandemic.

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“How could we expect our students and parents to be involved during the pandemic when so many times they were struggling just to put food on the table?” Betancur said.

Also, the poll revealed that just 12 percent of Latino parents in Providence have jobs that allow them to work from home, while 57 percent have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home and 31 percent were out of work.

“We saw how COVID-19 compounded barriers for our most vulnerable Rhode Islanders over the last year, and this poll demonstrates exactly how far reaching and long lasting its effects will be,” Betancur said. “As we work toward the recovery of our state, these barriers will not only slow us down but deepen existing generational divides if they are not addressed in meaningful ways.”


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.