In Their Own Words: RI senate and gubernatorial candidates talk about their plans for the state

We asked the following questions of candidates running for RI governor and senator in the upcoming November elections. This is part two of a two-part series; read part one here: Respondents in the gubernatorial race were Luis-Daniel Munoz (I) and Bill Gilbert (M). Respondents in the senate race were Sheldon Whitehouse (D) and Bob Flanders (R). Any editing was strictly for clarity or spelling.
Gubernatorial Race

Rank these in order of how much they impact children’s education: nutrition in schools, infrastructure, school culture/learning environment, adequate supplies, teacher incentives. How would you address these aspects of education?

Luis-Daniel Munoz (I): Nutrition – As a medical doctor, it is my understanding that nutrition is an important factor in brain development and, therefore, in the social and academic development of children. I think that it is important that we re-assess the food options and “lunch time” provided to students to ensure that healthy foods and mindful eating are encouraged.

Infrastructure (Physical Environment) – Environmental factors can impact learning in several ways. For instance, mold is associated with asthma and allergies, which can directly/indirectly impact a student’s academic performance. I believe that the aesthetics and general condition of schools/classrooms can also have a psychological impact on students and their ability to learn. The department of health should assess each of the schools to gauge the level of environmental risk factors. Additionally, I believe that it is important to assess the quality of materials used when renovating buildings to ensure that “durability and quality” levels are adequate, and approved by the state.

School Culture/Learning Environment – As a Central Falls High School graduate, I had the opportunity to learn from many teachers who may not have had many supplies, but they were able to create a positive and collaborative learning environment, which I believe augmented the learning experiences for students in their classes.

Adequate Supplies – I believe that basic supplies are essential to the learning process, and additional technological tools may also contribute to a better learning environment. I place adequate supplies in this order because the physical and psychological impact on the students is lesser relative to the aforementioned factors. Nevertheless, students should have access to physical school supplies, digital information tools and newer technologies. It is also important to ensure that technologies, such as 3D printing, be carefully implemented with a focus on understanding the technology itself and several industry-focused use-cases.

Teacher Incentives – Teachers are the lifeblood of our education system. It is because of their dedication and service to our children that I could place “teacher incentives” in any order (1-5). Teachers often give more time than expected to students. Teachers often share food with students. Teachers often help students cope with personal issues. Teachers often advocate for better environmental conditions. Teachers shape our learning environments and school cultures.

It is because of this that I want the RI Department of Education to have a series of forums for teachers, in order to gather feedback pertaining to education policies and initiatives. I think that we should incentivize teachers to be active participants in the shaping of policies. I think that we should align continuing credits with the innovation that teachers want to trial, and ensure that school administrators are creating an environment conducive to piloting “new methods.”

Bill Gilbert (M): School culture/learning environment has to be the highest priority of the list. First, students must be and feel physically safe. Second, Students must be engaged in a manner that promotes interaction and investigation in a manner that they readily understand. We have significant language and social cultural barriers that can be reduced using more computer aided and online facilitated instruction. We also need to reduce the strangle hold that the Department of Education has on the curriculum and teaching delivery methods, all students do not learn the same. Some students need a more hands-on approach such as a Montessori approach and some students learn best via reading and verbal instruction. Our education delivery modality decisions should be made as close to the teacher/ student relationship as practicable and possible.

Infrastructure: We need to be better stewards of taxpayers’ money, and provide healthy and safe buildings for our students. Repair and replacement costs will only escalate in the future and further burden our next generations. A safe and welcoming environment and a strong student / teacher relationship are critical and foundational to education; no one will ever focus on books and supplies when these are not first met.

Nutrition in schools is a broad discussion that covers everything from providing breakfast and lunch programs for students whose parents do not take the responsibility for their childrens’ meals to becoming some type of food and nutrition police for society. I am not in favor of banning foods, desserts and drinks that the students bring from home. I have no issue with the schools or vendors themselves not providing poor nutritional choices either. As a society we must ensure or children are adequately fed, find out why some parents do not provide for their children and hold the ones that can and don’t responsible.

Teacher incentives: Some districts need to entice teachers to work there. However, I believe incentives can cause teaching to the test of teaching to an outcome and not an overall strategy that is best for the student.

What’s the biggest issue facing the state?

Luis-Daniel Munoz (I): There are many challenges facing Rhode Island at this time.

  • UHIP
  • Burrillville Power Plant
  • National Grid’s LNG Project
  • Deteriorating school infrastructure/conditions

Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the biggest issue facing the state, which seems to be disregarded by the current administration, relates to the rising costs of healthcare services and healthcare insurance premiums.

Bill Gilbert (M): Overall, I believe a lack of ethics among our elected officials and our state managers and directors is crippling our wonderful state. If our leaders keep looking out for special interests and their own reelections instead of the state as a whole, no real forward-moving idea will ever get implemented. UHIP, Cooler and Warmer with buildings of Iceland in the commercial, attorneys who fail to file documents on time costing millions, children dying at DCYF, every one of the previous house’s finance committee under investigation, indictment of gone to jail, Ticket Gate, pay to play at the state beach concessions ad infinitum. We must do better. We need a white-collar crime unit and an inspector general. We need to be able to trust our government again.

How do you feel about supreme court decision that effectively makes every state right to work (Janus v. AFSCME)?

Luis-Daniel Munoz (I): I stand with the laborers and union members who are working very hard to provide for their families, and trying their best to achieve some version of the American Dream. I stand with the individual who is advocating for personal liberty. As it relates to the ruling, I think it falls upon states to seek out ways of addressing “fairness.” For instance, New Jersey limits the amount of time government employees can withdraw from their union, while Rhode Island has established a precedent for specific unions to stop representing non-members in grievance cases.

Bill Gilbert (M): I am ambivalent. While I have no issue with unions being the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit I understand the desire for individuals to not participate in the politics which many unions engage in or for members to have their wages garnished for politics beliefs they do not hold or have not voted on. Unions and their members are free to come to some new agreement among themselves to either limit political activity or to limit their exclusive representation.

Is environmental racism in Providence a problem and if so, how do you intend to address it?

Luis-Daniel Munoz (I): As it relates to the Liquefied Natural Gas Plant (National Grid), it is the lack of active investments by the state into educational forums and informational outreach for the community of South Providence that leads me to believe that environmental racism is a problem. I believe that leaders should focus on empowering individuals and communities with an understanding of issues that will impact their lives, as well as to provide them with the educational and advocacy tools to determine next steps as a community.

As a medical professional, I also understand that there are significant health risks, along with environmental risks associated with natural gas. Many Rhode Islanders, including outside of South Providence, are concerned about the LNG plant for multiple reasons. It is essential that we address all of these concerns and potential alternative paths.

Bill Gilbert (M):  Yes. It is all towns and communities, not just Providence. I have a saying that while life may not be fair the government should be. The best way to attack these cultural issues is to get the minority communities more engaged in civics, politics and our social programs. Education and community programs are the bedrock for these changes to be built.

Do you favor sending troops to Worcester to recover the PawSox?

Luis-Daniel Munoz (I): It is unfortunate that the PawSox have chosen to leave us. Nevertheless, state and city leadership failed to advocate for voters by abandoning the possibility of a ‘referendum’ (ie, Rhode Islanders’ ability to vote on the issue), and the deals that were structured failed to demonstrate sufficient protections and returns for the level of investment that was expected.

Race for US Senator

Rank these in order of how much they impact children’s education: nutrition in schools, infrastructure, school culture/learning environment, adequate supplies, teacher incentives. How would you address these aspects of education?

Bob Flanders (R): As the former Chairman of the RI Board of Regents, I am deeply concerned with the future of our education system. We deserve schools as exceptional as the students inside them. All of these aspects are critical for ensuring that our students have all of the tools necessary to learn. One of my top priorities is school security, and as RI’s next US Senator I will advocate for more federal funding to ensure that our school infrastructure is as secure as possible.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D): These are all important factors in helping children learn. I had a key role in passing the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind. ESSA provided extra support for middle school students, expanded after-school programs, improved civics and history education, and helped keep students in the juvenile justice system from falling behind academically.

It’s difficult to learn in an environment that isn’t warm, safe and dry. Too many Rhode Island schools don’t meet those basic criteria. I’m a cosponsor of Senator Reed’s bill to invest $100 billion in school infrastructure.

What’s the biggest issue facing the state?

Bob Flanders (R): The greatest issue facing our state is that the politicians in Washington DC can’t get things done. Washington is broken and we desperately need a change. After 12 years of Senator Whitehouse’s almost religious adherence to hyper-partisanship, Rhode Island needs a proven problem-solver as our next US Senator. I worked across the aisle with all stakeholders to get things done when I was the receiver of the city of Central Falls and led them through a consensual recovery plan out of insolvency. The issues we face in this state, including fixing our worst-in-the nation roads and bridges, immigration reform and enacting an affordable and accessible healthcare plan, can’t be fixed unless we have a United States Senator who is ready to put people over party.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D): The most pressing issue facing Rhode Island is protecting the middle class from President Trump’s harmful agenda. I’m fighting to defend the Affordable Care Act, which has lowered health care costs for so many Rhode Islanders and is constantly under threat from Republicans in Washington. We need to fix President Trump’s tax law, which gave an enormous benefit to the ultra-wealthy, before Republicans can follow through on using the deficit it created as an excuse to cut the Medicare and Social Security benefits seniors rely on. We need to keeping growing the economy and creating good jobs through a major investment in our national infrastructure. It’s also extremely important that we take action on climate change before rising sea levels change the map of Rhode Island and seriously harm our coastal economy.

How do you feel about supreme court decision that effectively makes every state right to work (Janus v. AFSCME)?

Bob Flanders (R): I think that the court made the right decision by ruling to protect freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is of such fundamental importance to our country that no government employee should have to support views that he or she disagrees with, whether in the workplace or otherwise.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D): The Janus decision was yet another troubling 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in which the Republican-appointed justices took the side of big corporate interests over working people. Unions built the middle class. This terrible decision represents a significant threat to organized labor and Americans’ wages. I’m going to keep doing everything in my power to make sure our unions remain strong.

Do you favor sending troops to Worcester to recover the PawSox?

Bob Flanders (R): Only if it is a platoon of G.I. Joe and Janes from Hasbro.

Sheldon Whitehouse (D): The PawSox were an asset to Rhode Island and I think it’s unfortunate that the team decided to leave. The focus now has to be on doing everything possible to keep Pawtucket’s economy moving in the right direction.

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