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School choice in Rhode Island

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See also

School choice refers to the educational alternatives available to parents who do not wish to send their children to the local district public schools to which they are assigned. Public school choice options include open enrollment policies, magnet schools and charter schools. Other options include traditional school vouchers, scholarship tax credits, personal tax credits and deductions and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to receive public funds directly for educational expenses.[1][2]

School choice options in Rhode Island include: charter schools, a school choice tax incentive program and an inter-district open enrollment policy. In addition, about 16.27 percent of school age children in the state attended private schools in the 2011-12 academic year, and an estimated 2.67 percent were homeschooled in 2012-13.

Educational choice options

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Charter schools

See also: Charter schools in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Department of Education defines charter schools as follows:[3]

Rhode Island's charter schools are public schools authorized by the State of Rhode Island to operate independently from many state and local district rules and regulations. Each charter school is able to establish educational strategies that meet the specific student achievement goals and objectives outlined in each school's charter.[4]

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there were 16 charter schools operating in Rhode Island in the 2012-13 academic year. During that time, charter schools enrolled 5,131 students.[5][6]

Charter school authorizers are, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the organizations "designated to approve, monitor, renew, and, if necessary, close charter schools." As of June 2014, the organizations in the following table were listed by NACSA as charter school authorizers in Rhode Island:[7]

Rhode Island charter school authorizers
Organization Authorizer type Number of schools overseen
Rhode Island State Department of Education State education agency 19
Note: If the total number of charter schools accounted for in this table differs from the total number listed elsewhere on this page, the discrepancy owes to differing calculation methods and data sources.
Source: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Rhode Island Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014

Magnet schools

See also: Number of schools by school type in the U.S.

Magnet schools, sometimes called theme-based schools, are public schools of choice that use a specialized subject area or innovative learning approach to attract students from more diverse backgrounds. In fact, magnet schools began as a way to desegregate public schools through choice rather than force. Magnet schools can reach beyond the barriers of school districts, but they are still managed and funded publicly by local districts, even though they are centered around specialized themes and subjects. Rhode Island does not have any magnet schools according to state and federal sources. Classical High School, a high-performance high school in Providence that specializes in providing advanced placement courses, has been considered by some to be a magnet school. However, neither U.S. News & World Report nor the federal government recognize the institution as a magnet school. This may be because the school has been criticized for "skimming" the top students in the area, which generally does not increase ethnic diversity in the school.[8][9][10][11]

School vouchers and tax incentives

Rhode Island offers one school choice tax incentive program:

  • Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Organizations: Under this program, corporations can claim tax credits for donations to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), nonprofit organizations that award private school scholarships. The tax credit is worth 75 percent of the corporation's contribution (or 90 percent if the corporation has donated for two consecutive years and the second year's donation is worth at least 80 percent of the first year's donation). Total funding for this program is capped at $1.5 million, and each corporation is capped at $100,000 in credits each year. Each SGO determines the amount of the scholarships it awards. To be eligible for scholarships funded by this program, students must come from households with incomes at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level (e.g., $58,875 for a family of four in 2013-14).[12]

Online learning

According to Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, there are no fully virtual, statewide schools in Rhode Island. There is no state-led online learning program. In 2013, two blended charter schools opened in Rhode Island.[13]

Private schools

In the 2011-12 school year, 23,027 students, or 16.27 percent of school age children, were enrolled in 134 private schools. Rhode Island ranks fifth highest in the nation in private school attendance.[14]

Public school open enrollment

According to the Education Commission of the States, Rhode Island has an inter-district/voluntary policy. Intra-district policies provide for the transfer of students within a school district, while inter-district policies allow students to transfer between districts. Under mandatory open enrollment policies, school districts are required to participate. Under voluntary policies, school districts may choose whether to participate.[15]


In Rhode Island in 2012-2013 an estimated 4,306 students, or 2.67 percent of the total student-aged population, were homeschooled.[16]

A summary of the state's laws relating to homeschooling can be accessed here.

Studies and reports

Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

In 2014 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a description of and commentary on school choice options in the United States. Regarding the Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Organizations Program, the foundation said, "In 2013, the Rhode Island General Assembly increased the cap on available tax credits by 50 percent. However, at $1.5 million, that cap is still extremely low when compared to demand. Only about one-third of potential donors have been able to participate in any given year. SGOs have the ability to determine their own student funding amounts, which is a plus; however, the overall cap on tax credits severely limits the potential and overall scope of those scholarships. The 75 percent deduction if donating for one year or 90 percent if donating for two years offers an attractive opportunity for corporations to continue supporting the program. And private school regulation is kept to a minimum: Schools must comply with health, safety, and nondiscrimination laws, employ teachers with bachelor’s degrees, and conduct teacher background checks. The program could serve more children if the overall cap were increased or an escalator clause were added to allow the program to grow to match demand."[17]

The full report can be accessed here.

School choice ballot measures

See also: School choice on the ballot and List of Rhode Island ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no statewide ballot measures relating to school choice in Rhode Island.

Recent news

This section displays the most recent stories in a Google news search for the term "Rhode + Island + Education + Choice"

All stories may not be relevant to this page due to the nature of the search engine.

Rhode Island School Choice News Feed

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See also


  1. National Conference of State Legislatures, "School Choice and Charters," accessed June 18, 2014
  2. Friedman Foundation for School Choice, "What is School Choice?" accessed June 18, 2014
  3. Rhode Island Department of Education, "Rhode Island's Charter Schools," accessed June 24, 2014
  4. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Schools - Rhode Island," accessed June 24, 2014
  6. National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "Total Number of Students - Rhode Island," accessed June 24, 2014
  7. National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "Rhode Island Charter Authorizers," accessed June 18, 2014
  8. Public School Review, "What is a magnet school?" accessed December 9, 2014
  9. Magnet Schools of America, "What are magnet schools?" accessed December 9, 2014
  10. U.S. News & World Report, "Classical High School overview," accessed December 16, 2014
  11. Go Local Prov, "Rhode Island reacts to school diversity report," accessed December 16, 2014
  12. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "Rhode Island - Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Organizations," accessed June 24, 2014
  13. Keeping Pace with K-12 Online and Blended Learning, "Rhode Island," accessed June 24, 2014
  14. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data (CCD), "Private School Universe Survey (PSS)", 2011-12 ; "Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey, v.1a.," accessed May 12, 2014
  15. Education Commission of the States, "Open Enrollment: 50-State Report," accessed June 23, 2014
  16. A2Z Home's Cool, "Number of Homeschoolers in the USA," updated February 2, 2014
  17. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, "The ABCs of School Choice - 2014 Edition," accessed June 18, 2014