Democratic gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell says the top goals of his education plan include cutting the high school dropout rate and relieving debt for college students.
Pell outlined his vision Wednesday as children played outside the Agnes Hennessey elementary school in East Providence.
If elected, Pell says he’d steer $28.8 million in new spending to make education more affordable and available to more students. He proposes providing up to two years of free tuition for academically qualifying students at CCRI to relieve the strain of student debt.
"Rhode Island has the fifth-highest level of debt when our students graduate college," Pell said. "It’s an average of more than 31,000 dollars. It’s no wonder when we’re ranked near the bottom, number 47, in terms of investment in higher ed per capita as a state."
Pell’s plan includes promoting international learning for students at state colleges, eliminating a 1,300-person backlog for adult education classes, and targeting dropout prevention through alternative education. The candidate says he’d pay for the cost of his education ideas by making them a priority.
Pell was non-committal when asked if he'd retain Deborah Gist as state education commissioner. He opposes linking graduating from high school to passing a high-stakes test.
The candidate grew most animated when asked to respond to critics who view him as instrument of teachers' unions. (Two top officials of the National Education Association Rhode Island, executive director Robert Walsh, and president Larry Purtill, were on hand for Pell's announcement.)
But Pell said the N\EA Rhode Island isn’t the reason why he’s running for governor.
“I’m running for governor because I care about making a difference," Pell said, "and I’m proud to have the support of teachers, I’m proud to have the support of parents, and I’m proud to have the support of the East Providence Democratic City Committee. But the reason I’m in this is because of what I believe and I believe that there’s a future here and it’s a future worth fighting for.”
In related news, Pell raised a little more than $1.2 million in the first three months of the year, most of it through a personal loan of just over $1 million. The comparable Q1 haul for fellow Democratic candidates Gina Raimondo and Angel Taveras was a respective $1.1 million and $500,000.