Blog · Rhode Island

Senator Whitehouse: Do as I say, Not as I do

It’s nothing new that Sheldon Whitehouse oozes hypocrisy but I am most rankled by his comments, actions, and over the top rhetoric when it comes to education because that’s where my focus lies. He is currently engaged in a war on Betsy DeVos, President Elect Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary who begins confirmation hearings today. And while there are legitimate and substantive reasons for folks to oppose her nomination, Senator Whitehouse just couldn’t hold his fire and as a result, has fallen into a deep hole of hypocrisy and his usual, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

According to the Daily Caller, Whitehouse is in a credibility free zone when it comes to two different but related education issues: school choice and for profit charter schools.

A Daily Caller investigation reveals that Whitehouse — who has repeatedly criticized Devos, even suggesting she has never set foot in a public school — is a former stockholder in a for-profit charter school company. What’s more, Whitehouse sent his own children to private schools because, in his words, the public schools wouldn’t have given his kids “the best education.” (Daily Caller, 1/6/17)

In Senator Whitehouse’s world, his children are entitled to the best education even when that education is a more than $50,000 a year and private. The rest of us? Not so much. And the poorest among those he claims to serve? The ones forced by law to send their children to schools that have under-performed for decades? Sorry. Not Sheldon’s problem.

Whitehouse acts as though he’s aghast over DeVos’ decisions regarding private schools for her own family. Strange coming from someone who grew up attending private and exclusive boarding schools himself and then, like DeVos, chose the same path for his children.

A Sentator’s Echo Chamber

In Providence on December 14th, Whitehouse held a round table to talk about education and the nomination of Betsy DeVos. It was billed as a meeting of “stakeholders.” But photos and first hand accounts of those at the meeting confirm that almost everyone in the room was white, not a single attendee supported DeVos, and no parents were invited.

That’s right. A round-table of education stakeholders and there was not a single person there to represent Rhode Island parents, thousands of of whom are clamoring for more choices and better schools.  Senator Whitehouse’s office did not respond to my repeated requests for a copy of the invite list via email or Twitter but here are the names of those in attendance according to his website.

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.

Senator Whitehouse’s Dec 14th round-table with education ‘stakeholders.’

Group think is never good and whether or not Betsy DeVos is worthy of confirmation is beside the point; we can’t move the state forward in any way if we refuse to invite opposing viewpoints into the room. Based on our academic performance as a state, it would be folly to even imply that those in that room on December 14th have all the answers. Parents must be heard.

On the issue of for-profit charter schools — which are illegal in the state of Rhode Island — Senator Whitehouse has another problem. Despite his feigned outrage over them with DeVos as his primary target, according to a 2001 financial disclosure report, Whitehouse has had a financial stake in a for-profit charter schools company since the year 2000.

Rhode Island State Ethics filings show that Whitehouse held a 10% or greater ownership interest, or a $5,000 or greater ownership investment interest in Edison Schools a for-profit company that was launched by Christopher Whittle and whose leadership included Benno Schmidt – the former President of Yale. Whitehouse is a Yale grad.

“After four roller-coaster years as a publicly traded company, Edison Schools, the nation’s largest for-profit manager of public schools, announced yesterday that its board had accepted a bid of about $174 million by its founder and chief executive, H. Christopher Whittle, to take the company private,” the New York Times reported in 2003.

His office has, again, refused to comment or provide information, so we are left wondering about the details of his involvement as a stockholder.

If there is one thing I admire about true leaders, it’s their ability to be up front, answer questions, and even admit mistakes. There are some in both parties who do that but sadly, our junior Senator from Rhode Island isn’t one of them. He runs and hides. He preaches transparency but doesn’t practice it. He rails on about how much he values parents and then doesn’t invite a single one to an education round-table. He avoids engaging with those who oppose his views, even when they are his own constituents who have supported him at the polls.

If Senator Whitehouse wants to have a fair and substantive debate about Betsy DeVos, he should do that. And he should probably invite some parents who want the same thing he says he wants: “the best education” for their children.

In the meantime, Senator, tell your office to start answering some very basic questions from those he claims to serve.

 

 

 

 

 

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