WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Early child care advocates are calling on state leaders to reexamine Rhode Island’s proposed 2024 state budget, saying they desperately need more funding.
Head Start program providers, child care workers, families and advocates rallied on Wednesday at Child Inc. on Centerville Avenue to voice their concerns.
Leanne Barrett from Rhode Island Kids Count and RIght From the Start said she’s disappointed in the budget the House Finance Committee released Friday, saying “it does not include any significant new funding for child care or early learning.”
Barrett said new funding is essential to address the the child care staffing crisis and reopen closed Head Start classrooms: “28% of their classrooms have been closed this entire year because of difficulty recruiting and maintaining staff, so we’re asking the state to put money into that like Massachusetts does, to make sure we can have our Early Head Start and Head Start classes open in September and stay open.”
Without the funding, advocates say that not only will classrooms remain closed, but programs will continue to be understaffed, leading to long waiting lists and a lack of affordable child care.
“I’m disappointed that the state of Rhode Island does not seem willing to support our children and families in the workforce” said Mary Varr, executive director of Head Start in Woonsocket.
She later added, “I want to know why our leaders don’t seem to want to make an investment today for our state’s future tomorrow.”
While advocates didn’t hold back on sharing their frustrations, they did thank state leaders for promising to take another look at the proposed budget.
Barrett said they’re asking for an additional $6.5 million in the budget to go toward early learning: “that’s a much-reduced ask from our original proposals. That’s a minimum we need, so we don’t go backwards.”
When asked to respond to the calls for more funding, Larry Berman, a spokesperson for House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, said, “There are always issues that need to be evaluated after the passage of the budget by the House Finance Committee, and this is one of them.”
12 News has reached out to Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Governor Dan McKee for comment but have yet to hear back.