U.S. Department of Education awards URI College of Education $1.1 million for special education programs

The University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein College of Education has been awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Programs, to prepare programs that will address the need for qualified personnel and services related to special education and ensure a diversified teacher workforce to better serve children with disabilities in the state. The award will be distributed over the next five years.

Project SUSTAIN: Supporting Special Education Teachers toward Access & Inclusion Network, will prepare 30 professionals to earn a URI master’s degree and certification in special education and a graduate certificate in dyslexia knowledge and practice, through a partnership with Providence, Woonsocket and Central Falls public schools, and the Rhode Island Institute for Labor Studies and Research.

“Leveraging our relationships with district leaders will allow the project team to effectively network within each of these organizations,” said Adam Moore, URI associate professor of special education and principal investigator of the grant.

Project SUSTAIN will support special educators as they develop professional skills and identities with an emphasis on recruiting, retaining, and sustaining educators from historically minoritized backgrounds, based on race, ethnicity, disability status, sexual orientation, and immigration status, who currently or seek to support high need student populations.

Moore said the project was conceptualized through the lenses of equity, justice, and inclusion. Preparation programs will be centered on equity to address disparities in education, and ensure that teacher candidates are prepared to teach all students effectively

“Considerable PK-16 research identifies that racially and ethnically minoritized students, students with disabilities, students from the LGBTQ+ community, multilingual learners, and students from low socio-economic backgrounds have been adversely impacted in their schooling. Project SUSTAIN aims to address these inequities,” Moore said.

“URI’s College of Education collaborated on a vision that defines diversity and identifies the dispositions, knowledge, and skills our teacher candidates must possess to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. It is with these tenets that Project SUSTAIN has been envisioned,” said Danielle Dennis, dean of the College of Education, and a principal investigator of the grant.

Theresa Deeney, professor of reading and learning disabilities, and Tashal Brown, assistant professor of urban education and secondary social studies, were co-investigators on the award.

“The funding from the Office of Special Education Programs will help diversify the special education teacher workforce within the state of Rhode Island,” said Ruby Owiny, past president of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children. “Adam Moore and Danielle Dennis, and their collaborators, bring national leadership in teacher preparation, accreditation, and equity-minded approaches to preparing educators that is needed for addressing the shortage in a meaningful way.”

Owiny also serves on the advisory board of Project SUSTAIN.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, Rhode Island special education has been identified as a shortage area at both the elementary and secondary levels, resulting in 19 percent of emergency teaching certificates issued in the state since 2021. Of the Rhode Island school districts that sought emergency certification for special education, five urban districts – Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Woonsocket and Warwick – accounted for 63 percent of emergency issuances.