Senates passes legislative package to expand and strengthen
RI’s early childhood care, education system
Proposals would accelerate progress toward universal pre-K,
establish new Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning
STATE HOUSE – The Senate on Tuesday approved a legislative package designed to expand and strengthen the state’s early childhood care and education system.
The legislation will help ensure all Rhode Island children have the best possible chance for success in school and in life, while providing critical support for working families.
“These bills are among the most important proposals the Senate will take up during this session. They set transformational goals and outline vital investments in our state’s future,” said Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence). “We will put Rhode Island on a dramatically accelerated path to universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. 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.”
The cornerstone of the package, the Rhode Island Prekindergarten Act (2022-S 2680 SUB A), was introduced by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick). This act defines what high-quality prekindergarten will look like in Rhode Island, adds 1,700 new high-quality seats to the state prekindergarten program, and puts Rhode Island on a path to offering universal prekindergarten to all 3- and 4-year-old children.
“Our goal is ambitious, but it is critical that we act now,” said Sen. Gallo, who is Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education. “Research has shown just how beneficial pre-K is for children. Access to such a life-changing resource should never depend on where a child lives or whether a family can afford it.”
Also passed was legislation sponsored by Sen. Gallo to create a new Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning (2022-S 2678 SUB A). This new agency, to be established by June 30, 2024, will administer child care and pre-K programs in Rhode Island. It will have a full-time staff and a council representing various stakeholders.
“We need to think of pre-K and child care as part of a connected early childhood system,” Sen. Gallo said. “We need a more unified focus on the programs we provide our children in their youngest years, which are so critical for their development.”
Sen. Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) introduced two pieces of legislation as part of the pre-K and child care package.
The Child Care is Essential Act (2022-S 2681), which passed the Senate today, expands eligibility for the Child Care Assistance Program, or CCAP, through increased income thresholds and caps on co-payments. It also sets new benchmarks for child care reimbursement rates to bring Rhode Island into alignment with national standards.
Sen. Cano’s second bill, the Early Educator Investment Act (2022-S 2235), passed in the Senate in April. It directs the state’s Children’s Cabinet to set a target wage scale for early educators and identify strategies for increasing compensation. It also directs the Department of Human Services to create an early educator workforce registry and appropriates $5 million to provide wage supplements to registered workers.
“The Child Care is Essential Act will be a lifeline for working families. It will help ensure access to secure, quality, affordable child care to all Rhode Islanders, especially those in communities that have been left behind for far too long,” said Sen. Cano, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education. “The Early Educator Investment Act is critically important to our efforts to stabilize the early childhood workforce. All of our state’s educators, at all levels, deserve to feel secure, supported, and respected.”
Finally, the Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) to create five Early Learning Hubs across Rhode Island (2022-S 2679 SUB A). Each Early Learning Hub will be coordinated by an early learning intermediary with expertise and/or experience in providing early childhood care of education. The Hubs will connect providers with a range of resources and services, including technical assistance, professional development, workforce recruitment support, and shared services.”
“Our early childhood system is so incredibly important for our state’s future. That’s why we’ve taken a comprehensive approach with this package of legislation,” said Sen. DiMario, a member of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. “The establishment of Early Learning Hubs across Rhode Island will create connections in our communities, serve as a catalyst for new ideas and partnerships, open doors, and break down barriers.”
Several key stakeholders took part in a March event at which the early childhood care and education package was unveiled.
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, and Co-Chair, Rhode Island Early Learning Council, said at that time: “A solid foundation of high quality early care and education is critical to healthy child development and school readiness. We know that child care, starting with infant/toddler care, is essential for children to learn and for parents to be able to go to work confident that their children are thriving. Increasing access to Rhode Island’s high quality Pre-K Program, offered in mixed delivery settings including child care centers, public schools, and Head Start programs, is an important investment for Rhode Island’s future economic success.”
Robert A. Walsh Jr., Executive Director, National Education Association of Rhode Island, said at that time: “This comprehensive package of legislation will recognize the important overlap between early childhood education, pre-kindergarten opportunities and child care and, by raising the issue to agency status, ensure these critical areas get the attention they so richly deserve.”
Mary Varr, Executive Director of Woonsocket Head Start Child Development Association, said at that time: “The Rhode Island Head Start Association is grateful that the state Senate has heard the voices of advocates in the early childhood field. The bills that are being introduced today will empower the state, early educators and parents to work together improve our systems of education and support for our youngest and most vulnerable Rhode Islanders.”
Ngina Johnson, Early Childhood Education Director, Genesis Center, said at that time: “In order to fully support children's social, emotional and cognitive development, it is crucial to have unified support of families and teachers. We want nothing more than to create that solid foundation for children to become independent, curious and engaged learners. Programs like ours at Genesis Center are essential for working families, as we provide parents and guardians with safe, enriching and essential care for their children.”
The Rhode Island Prekindergarten Act was cosponsored by Sen. Cano, Sen. Ryan W. Pearson (D-Dist. 19, Cumberland, Lincoln), Sen. Valarie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence), Sen. DiMario, Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield), Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist. 1, Providence), and Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick).
Sen. Gallo’s proposal to create a new Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning was cosponsored by Sen. Cano, Sen. DiMario, Majority Leader McCaffrey, Majority Whip Goodwin, President Ruggerio, Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), and Sen. Murray.
The Child Care is Essential Act was cosponsored by Majority Whip Goodwin, Sen. DiMario, Sen. Gallo, Sen. Samuel D. Zurier (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Sen. Pearson, Sen. Jonathan Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence), President Ruggerio, and Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown, Narragansett).
The Early Educator Investment Act was cosponsored by Sen. DiMario, Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Sen. Murray, Sen. Lawson, Sen. Kallman, Sen. Kendra Anderson (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston), Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Bristol, Portsmouth, Tiverton), and Sen. Pearson.
Sen. DiMario’s proposal for Early Learning Hubs was cosponsored by Sen. Cano, Sen. Gallo, Sen. Lawson, Sen. Valverde, Sen. DiPalma, Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Seveney, Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), and Sen. John P. Burke (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick).