Senators introduce 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 – To ensure all Rhode Island children have the best possible chance for success in school and in life, and to provide critical support for working families, members of the Senate today unveiled a legislative package designed to expand and strengthen the state’s early childhood care and education system.


“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, will be introduced by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick). This act would amend an existing statute to repeal pre-kindergarten planning directives given to the Rhode Island Department of Education in 2008, while setting a new goal of universal pre-K access for all 3- and 4-year-olds by June 30, 2028.


“Our goal is ambitious, and 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.”


Sen. Gallo will also introduce legislation to create a new Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning. 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) will introduce two pieces of legislation as part of the pre-K and child care package.


The Child Care is Essential Act 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.


The Early Educator Investment Act (2022-S-2235), which was introduced previously, 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.”


Additionally, Sen. Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) will introduce legislation to create five Early Learning Hubs across Rhode Island. 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 incredibly important for our state’s future. That’s why we’ve taken a comprehensive approach with this package of legislation,” said Sen. DiMario, Co-Chair of the Permanent Joint Legislative Commission on Child Care. “The establishment of Early Learning Hubs across Rhode Island will create connections between providers in our communities, serve as a catalyst for new ideas and partnerships, strengthen our child care system to benefit working families, and prepare for the future of early childhood education in Rhode Island.”


Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, and Co-Chair, Rhode Island Early Learning Council, said: “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: “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: “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 to improve our systems of education and support for our youngest and most vulnerable Rhode Islanders.”


Ngina Johnson, Early Childhood Education Director, Genesis Center, said: “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.”