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After Biting Report, Providence Looks to Lift Failing School District

Brown tap water. Student brawls. Chronically absent teachers. Test scores that rank among the worst in the country.

The public school district here is full of deplorable conditions, according to a recent scathing report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. Now the capital city, proud of its downtown renaissance, restaurants and arts scene, faces a painful reckoning as it is debating what to do with a failing school system that serves 24,000 children, who are mostly poor and Hispanic.

Rhode Island’sState Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, who took office in April, and Mayor Jorge Elorza are hosting eight community forums this month. On July 23, Ms. Infante-Green plans to make recommendations to the state school board’s K-12 council, which will decide the next steps.

Some residents believe the state will take over the district, a drastic step that has had mixed results elsewhere in the U.S. Some people want such intervention, but others worry local parents and taxpayers won’t have a voice, and that the state’s department of education lacks the capacity to help.