Ward Three City Councilor Nirva LaFortune said the Providence Public Schools played a big role in making her the person she is today. “I went through the Providence Public Schools, so did all of my siblings,” she said.

LaFortune’s family came to Providence from Haiti when she was three. She said Providence teachers fueled a love of learning and her motivation to succeed.

“Just having someone who looked for their students who cared and who motivated us was necessary,” LaFortune said, “because many of us faced challenges outside of the school walls.”

LaFortune went on to become the first person in her family to go to college. She got degrees from Temple and Brown University. LaFortune said that experience influenced her decision to send her two children to Providence public schools -- Classical High School for her almost 17-year-old son, and Vartan Gregorian Elementary for her almost nine-year-old daughter.

“If I’m an advocate for a public education, I thought it was important that my children attend our public schools,” she said.

But LaFortune is the exception. Most of the children of the 38 elected officials from Providence go to private, religious or charter schools.

“Well, if they’re not sending their kids to Providence schools, it’s because they know, right?” asked Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green. “And they’re lucky enough to have options.”

Infante-Green is poised to lead a state takeover meant to improve Rhode Island’s largest school system after decades of under-performance.

After coming to Rhode Island earlier this year, Infante-Green raised some eyebrows by saying she would not send her own children to Providence schools. Her son, who is on the autism spectrum, goes to the private Wolf School, and her daughter attends the private Gordon School, both in East Providence.

Infante-Green says the choices of elected officials in Providence reflect the sorry state of the public schools.

“Nobody wants to send their child somewhere else when they can send them to their local school,” she said. “But if that school’s not good enough … I mean, I have to tell you there’s some school in Providence that have a 2 percent proficiency rate – two percent. That’s not okay, that’s just not okay for any family.”

Let’s break down some numbers. Between the General Assembly, the City Council and other offices, there are only eight officials with school-age kids who live in Providence. In total, we’re talking about 13 students. Of those, six attend traditional Providence public schools, four go to private or religious schools, and three go to charter schools.

Governor Gina Raimondo is among the eight elected officials with school-age kids who live in Providence. The governor’s 15-year-old daughter, Ceci, goes to the same private high school attended by her mom, LaSalle Academy. Raimondo says her 12-year-old son Tommy goes to Hamilton, part of the private Wheeler School, since it helps him with his dyslexia.

“Every parent should make the decision that they think is best for their kid and not apologize for it,” Raimondo tells The Public’s Radio, “but public schools should be a good option.”

Considering the issues in Providence, it may not be surprising that most of the children of elected officials who live in the city go somewhere other than traditional public schools.

“There is a lot of concerns that I have when it comes to the Providence schools,” said Providence City Council President Sabina Matos.

Matos said she likes the option provided by charter schools. Like traditional public schools, charters are funded by the state, but students are picked through drawings.

Both of Matos’ kids, 14-year-old Diego and 9-year-old Annmarie, started at charters. Diego is now a freshman at Classical High School -- widely considered the best public school in Providence -- while Annmarie attends the Achievement First charter school as a fourth-grader. Matos said she thought about sending Diego to a traditional public middle school, but decided against it because it seemed too big.

State Rep. Scott Slater (D-Providence) also describes himself as a fan of charter schools.

Slater said his wife and he send their daughters, ages 7 and 9, to the Hope Academy charter School in part since it offers a dual English-Spanish language program. “It’s still a public school,” he said. “I think parents need to have options.”

State Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D-Providence), a member of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s leadership team, recently walked his 5-year-old daughter, Aria, to an orientation at her new school, Vartan Gregorian Elementary near their home in Fox Point. Blazejewski, who grew up in Cumberland, said sending Aria to the local public school was an easy choice in his family.

 “Every parent has to make their own decision as to education,” he said, “but as for us, I went to public schools, my wife Ami went to public schools. And I owe so much of my life to the public school teachers that I had. We think public schools really bring people together.”

State Rep. Rebecca Kislak (D-Providence) said she and her wife weighed a lot of things when they contemplated where to school their sons, ages 10 and 13. The younger child is starting 5th grade at the Jewish Community Day School, and the older one is beginning eighth grade at Nathan Bishop Middle School.

“Our Jewish community is really important to us and our family,” Kislak said, “which is we decided to send both kids to elementary school at the Jewish Community Day School – for that foundation for them. And public school and public education is really important to us as well. So we’ve made the decision that starting in middle school, that’s where our children are going.”

Some of the elected officials who send their children to private or charter schools say that does not stop from advocating for traditional public school students.

State Senator Gayle Goldin, a Democrat who represents the East Side, sends her one remaining school-age son to a private school because, she said, it’s a better fit.

Goldin said her perspective as a parent still helps her to advocate for children “about things that I see, which are the dismal state of the Providence schools, the physical structures of them – the ceilings caving in, the toxic mold that’s in the schools, the fact that there’s rain coming down in some of the classrooms.”

State Representative Moira Walsh (D-Providence) represents a low- and moderate-income neighborhood around Smith Hill. She’s fine with sending her five-year-old son to Veazie Street Elementary near their home. But Walsh said Providence schools are in such rough shape that parents should not be judged for pursuing other options for their children.

“Because it very much feels like you’re telling kids who are trying to get into a lifeboat that their lifeboat isn’t organically harvested and free trade and self-sustaining,” Walsh said.

But City Councilor Nirva LaFortune, who we spoke with earlier, thinks it would help if more elected officials from Providence sent their kids to traditional public schools.

“If every single elected official put their kids through our public schools, I can assure you that our school system would be better,” LaFortune said. “Because they would be vested and they would want to improve our schools, because their children would be part of the system, so they would want a quality education for their children and everyone else.”

The need to improve Providence schools has been talked about for years. There’s no guarantee that the latest push will succeed. But the state is poised to take over Providence schools in late October, and Education Commissioner Infante-Green will lead that effort.

This is an extended version of a story airing on The Public’s Radio.