PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island Senate leaders announced Tuesday they are setting a goal to make pre-K classes available to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state by the fall of 2028, as well as expand the availability of affordable child care.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and other Democrats rolled out a package of bills they said would help fill the gap between what is currently available and what they believe is needed.
“We will put Rhode Island on a dramatically accelerated path to universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “We will invest in building capacity and strengthening the workforce pipeline for early childhood service providers. And we will make early childhood care and education an affordable, reliable, high-quality resource for all Rhode Island families.”
Greg Pare, a Senate spokesperson, said legislative experts project the state would need to spend roughly $120 million more a year by 2028 in order to expand pre-K so that it’s available to all. The estimate excludes capital costs such as physical buildings for the programs.
The state currently has 2,843 children enrolled in public pre-K, according to R.I. Department of Education data. The numbers exclude students enrolled in private pre-K programs.
Pare noted that President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better legislation would provide significant federal money to help pay for those costs, though it’s unclear how likely that is to happen with the bill stalled in Congress.
“But, even without BBB, it’s time for the state to redirect resources where they are going to have the biggest impact for working families, and for our children,” Pare said.
Senate leaders said the cornerstone of the legislative package is a bill dubbed the Rhode Island Prekindergarten Act, sponsored by state Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston. The measure would enshrine the 2028 goal for universal pre-K in law, while a second bill would create a new state Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning by 2024 to help achieve it.
Gallo described the 2028 goal as “ambitious” but argued state leaders need to ensure young Rhode Islanders have access to pre-K as well as quality child care regardless of their families’ financial circumstances.
“We need to think of pre-K and child care as part of a connected early childhood system,” Gallo said.
Three other bills that are part of the Senate’s pre-K and child care package are being put forward by state Sens. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, and Alana DiMario, D-Narragansett.
One of Cano’s bills, the Child Care is Essential Act, would change the state’s Child Care Assistance Program to increase the maximum income eligibility and cap co-payments, as well as shift the state’s reimbursement rates for providers “into alignment with national standards.”
Cano’s other bill, the Early Educator Investment Act, also focuses on workforce issues. It would have the state create targets for wages among child care and pre-K workers as well as provide $5 million to offer wage supplements to workers registered with the state.
DiMario’s legislation seeks to create five “Early Learning Hubs” around the state that would serve as resources for providers, offering “technical assistance, professional development, workforce recruitment support, and shared services,” according to a summary.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.