Legislation introduced by RI GOP would tackle ‘extremely pressing educational challenges’

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Republicans in the R.I. House plan to file legislation that will address what they’re calling “extremely pressing educational challenges” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation, which was introduced Thursday by Reps. Michael Chippendale and Blake Filippi, will establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to help students who are distance learning and gives parents the choice to send their child to another district that is offering in-person schooling.

The lawmakers believe in-person learning is the best option for both students and parents alike, and their legislation is intended to ensure that students do not fall behind because of remote learning.

“Education lays the foundation for human development,” Filippi said. “The challenges remote learning presents in overall childhood development, in enhanced socialization skills and in children’s mental health cannot be understated. Each child needs to learn in an environment conducive to their specific needs and government’s role is to provide the best setting possible for learning and growth.”

The ESAs, the lawmakers said, are restricted receipt accounts, funded by tax and CARES Act dollars, but managed by families. Parents who opt to move forward with remote learning can utilize the ESAs to pay for tutoring, technology and school supplies.

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“We believe that parents know what the best learning environment is for their children and that they are the primary advocate for their child’s education,” Chippendale said. “We also believe that by empowering families with the use of ESAs, we are providing various options that will allow parents to determine the best learning environment for their children.”

“No child can be expected to develop into an adult with a promising future without the foundation of a solid education, which includes socialization,” he continued. “Currently, our children are experiencing unprecedented interruptions in their learning development and the damage created in not addressing each child’s individual learning needs is our greatest fear, which could have lifelong, detrimental effects. That is unacceptable.”

Chippendale said if passed, the legislation could be enacted within a week prior to the reopening of schools on Sept. 14.

“We received some pretty strong support on this initiative, because there are some parents who feel very strongly that their child must have that social interaction, they must be in that school because they just aren’t thriving in the distance-learning environment,” Chippendale said.

12 News reached out to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s office which declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

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