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Mayor Elorza declares war on Governor McKee over charter schools

The move to allow the non-union Achievement First to operate a school in the same building as a traditional public school has drawn criticism from the city’s teachers’ union, which has long opposed charter schools

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza celebrated Earth Day by launching the Pesticide Free PVD Campaign to eliminate harmful chemicals from city parks and land.Alexa Gagosz/ Globe Staff

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Happy Wednesday and welcome to Rhode Map, your daily guide to everything happening in the Ocean State. I’m Dan McGowan and I think watching Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers play golf might be more fun than watching them play football. Follow me on Twitter @DanMcGowan or send tips to

The race for Rhode Island governor is already getting nasty.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza teed off on Governor Dan McKee over education on Tuesday, accusing the governor of “turning his back” on charter schools and questioning whether the Providence Teachers Union has too much influence over McKee’s decision making.


The two likely Democratic primary opponents in next year’s governor’s race are openly sparring over Elorza’s decision to allow the Achievement First charter school organization to open a new elementary school this fall inside the Fortes Elementary School, which is owned by the city.

The move to allow the non-union Achievement First to operate a school in the same building as a traditional public school has drawn criticism from the city’s teachers’ union, which has long opposed charter schools. McKee said on Tuesday he is actively seeking to find a new home for the charter school, and blamed Elorza for signing a deal with Achievement First to move into the school.

But Elorza maintains that the state Department of Education came to him with the idea to open an Achievement First school in the Fortes building several months ago.

”It’s incredibly disingenuous for the hot potato to be passed over to us when it was them who baked the potato in the first place,” Elorza said.

Achievement First is a mayoral academy, which is a special type of charter school whose board is overseen by municipal leaders – in this case, Elorza. McKee helped craft the legislation that created mayoral academies when he was mayor of Cumberland, and has long been considered a strong supporter of charter schools.


But Elorza said McKee has shown a pattern of catering to the Providence Teachers Union in recent months. During his press conference on Tuesday, McKee said he doesn’t want the charter school issue to affect union contract negotiations.

”This is a blatant attempt from the governor’s office, from the governor himself, to derail Achievement First from expanding,” Elorza said. “It’s obvious and clear that he’s taking his cues from PTU right now.”

The future of Providence schools is likely to be a major issue in next year’s Democratic primary for governor (which will also include Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and state Treasurer Seth Magaziner) because the state has controlled the 24,000-student district since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic, a bitter contract battle with the union, and several other missteps have threatened to thwart the takeover.

In a statement on Tuesday, McKee spokeswoman Andrea Palagi said the governor has never been supportive of moving Achievement First into the Fortes school “because of the lack of inclusive outreach with all parties impacted.”

While the state controls the Providence school system, the city controls the physical school buildings, which is why McKee doesn’t have the ability to block Achievement First from opening in the Fortes school. Palagi conceded that it might be too late to find an alternate site this close to the start of a new school year.


”The governor is pleased that the mayor understands the value of supporting the mayoral academies, but in order to make a shared facility strategy work, there must be a mutual understanding between everyone involved,” Palagi said.

Elorza said McKee’s “risk-averse” approach to schools isn’t helping Providence.”You have to make someone unhappy,” Elorza said. “Either you make PTU unhappy or you’re selling short the kids who deserve these opportunities.”


⚓ The leader of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island says the Rise of the Moors group that was involved in an armed standoff with police over the weekend is not violent or radical. Read more.

⚓ In court on Tuesday, the self-identified leader of the Moors said he couldn’t fathom how the government was trying to lock him up for his alleged actions. Then he was ordered held without bail. Read more.

⚓ Governor Dan McKee vetoed a bill that he said would require ratepayers to pay for electric system upgrades that are currently funded by renewable energy developers. Read more.

⚓ Brown University is pushing ahead with its first development project for student residence halls in nearly 30 years, rejecting recommendations from the community in which those dorms will be built. Read more.

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Each day, Rhode Map offers a cheat sheet breaking down what’s happening in Rhode Island. Have an idea? E-mail us at

⚓ BIRTHDAYS: Rhode Map readers, if you want a friend or family member to be recognized on Friday, send me an e-mail with their first and last name, and their age.

⚓ The state Council on Postsecondary Education will meet at 5:30 p.m. to formally approve a policy announced June 23 requiring students at Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island to get a COVID-19 vaccination prior to the start of the fall semester. Here’s how other colleges in Rhode Island are handling vaccination requirements.

⚓ The WaterFire Arts Center is hosting a free exhibit of the work of photographer Mary Beth Meehan from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

⚓ The Cranston Development Plan Review Committee meets at 9 a.m. to discuss a preliminary plan to build a new Garden City Elementary School

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Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.