Providence, RI – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse yesterday convened more than a dozen Rhode Islanders who have a stake in public education to gather feedback on the President-elect’s nomination of Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education. Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which is expected to hold a confirmation hearing for DeVos in January.
“I’m grateful to all those who joined me to discuss the qualities Rhode Islanders are looking for in a Secretary of Education who will position our children for success,” said Whitehouse. “President-elect Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos, a billionaire whose views on education seem to be out of line with many Rhode Islanders’ values, to set federal education policy. The President-elect seems to fill his cabinet with ultra-wealthy individuals with ties to political special interests. The needs of Rhode Island students, parents, and educators will be front and center as I prepare for the hearing on this nomination.”
Rhode Islanders who took part in the discussion at the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence Campus included teachers, administrators, charter school advocates, and representatives from organizations, including the RI Middle Level Educators, Providence Student Union, College Crusade, RI Kids Count, RIFTHP, NEARI, and the Providence After School Alliance. Participants raised questions about DeVos’ qualifications, her support for deregulated low-performing charter schools, her advocacy for private school vouchers, and her stance on the role of teacher unions, among other topics.
“Betsy DeVos does not have the qualifications to lead our nation’s schools having never attended or been employed in a public school or district,” said Barbara Pellegrino, a first grade teacher in Warwick Public Schools and a recent recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. “She does not hold a degree in education. The students who attend our public school deserve an advocate who will work to strengthen our educational system, not one who wants to destroy it.”
“With regard to higher education issues, Betsy DeVos is an unknown quantity,” said Andrew Bramson, President and CEO of the College Crusade of Rhode Island. “As a result, we must be ready to advocate for first generation and underrepresented college students here in Rhode Island. This means speaking vocally about the importance of Pell grants and college access programs that help students graduate from college and contribute to our state’s economic growth.”
“DeVos’ public track record and anticipated vision of for-profit charter schools and private school vouchers runs counter to what is positive and powerful about the charter movement – that we are public, non-profit schools, accountable to the public for our management and results,” said Sarah Friedman and Meg O’Leary, co-directors of The Learning Community, a K-8 charter school in Central Falls.
Constituents are encouraged to share thoughts about or questions for any of the President-elect’s nominations with Whitehouse via his website, whitehouse.senate.gov, or by calling his office at (401) 453-5294.