Governor Gina Raimondo has made a commitment to providing universal pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) to all Rhode Island 4-year-olds by 2024. This pledge, along with other critical investments proposed in the governor’s budget to support education and human services, will ensure all Rhode Island children and families have the resources necessary to thrive
Currently, Rhode Island serves more than 1,000 children in 60 state Pre-K classrooms across the state. We’re delivering quality education for our children. We know our program is among the best in the country. The National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University found that Rhode Island is one of only three states meeting all 10 of its quality standards, including full-day programming, while increasing enrollment.
But we also know that the demand for Pre-K seats far outpaces our offerings, and too many families find Pre-K unaffordable. We also know that high-quality Pre-K is a powerful tool that produces an overwhelming return on investment. The long-term economic benefits of Pre-K are extensive from gains in 3rd grade reading proficiency, greater high-school graduation rates, lower incarceration rates and higher career earnings.
As a mother I know the value of Pre-K first hand. My daughter, Emilia, attends a high-quality early learning program because of my ability to pay for it. Recently, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Emilia’s class I am in awe as I watch her teachers intentionally develop each child. Emilia and her classmates are not only learning early literacy and math skills, they are learning how to resolve conflicts, focus on projects and manage their own emotions.
The fact that my daughter has spent four years of life in high quality early education, simply because I can pay for it, is the definition of inequality. Access to these experiences for young children should not be a privilege. Every child, no matter their socio-economic status, should be given the opportunity to attend a high-quality early learning program. Universal Pre-K is a key strategy in accomplishing this goal.
Rhode Island’s economy demands that more children be on track to be proficient readers. We need more high school graduates that are skilled enough to supply our nation’s workforce, higher education, leadership, and national security needs. And the path to greater learning starts at the beginning. We need to be sure we don’t leave any one in our Rhode Island family behind, and we’ll need everyone’s help to move forward together.
The work has already begun. Last year we took action to support children during their critical first years of life through comprehensive adjustments in the Child Care Assistance Program. Quality child care is not only a support for our low-income families, but also a resource instrumental to the success of a young child’s academic career that helps ensure stability and success. The governor’s Pre-K plan builds on that work. It calls for adding 540 new Pre-K seats in the 2018-19 school year with additional gains in the coming years.
As the Director of DHS, you have my full commitment to supporting the governor’s vision to ensure all Rhode Island children enter a kindergarten classroom ready for success. Our accomplishments over the past two years have set the framework for future growth. We must preserve this momentum and support Governor Raimondo’s pledge to offer Universal Pre-K by 2024.
Courtney E. Hawkins is the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services.