Senate approves Sen. Gallo's education bills

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved two education bills sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo: one to set a limit of 20 students for kindergarten through Grade 2 classes in public schools, and another to ensure children can access speech therapy past their ninth birthdays.

The Kindergarten Through Grade Two Maximum Class Size Act (2022-S 2282) would require that as of Oct. 1 of each school year, no more than 20 students may be assigned to each teacher who is teaching core-curricula courses in public school classrooms for kindergarten through Grade 2, except in emergency situations that would need to be resolved within three days. An exception could be made if a student enrolls after Oct. 1 and there is no practical, nondisruptive way to add him or her to a class without exceeding the limit.

“There are so many benefits to keeping class sizes from becoming too large in the early grades, and they are not limited to the years students are in those classes. Children who begin school in smaller classes have higher achievements throughout their academic careers, including higher graduation rates and better college entrance exam grades. Those students also have better attendance and even better health, motivation and self-esteem,” said Senator Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick). “Children flourish when they get off to a strong start at school, and one of the most critical factors is being in a class that is small enough for the teacher to provide each student with the individual attention they need at that stage. Committing to small classes is committing to better education for all Rhode Island students, especially those who face learning challenges and disadvantages.”

Studies have demonstrated that students who are assigned to smaller classes in the early grades score higher on tests, receive better grades and exhibit improved attendance throughout their education.

“Investments in keeping early elementary classes small actually save money on special education and remedial services for students who do not acquire the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in later grades. Just as caring well for seedlings creates strong, healthy plants, nurturing young students gives them the skills, self-confidence and drive to be strong learners for the rest of their lives. Small class sizes are truly a down payment on a stronger future for Rhode Island,” said Senator Gallo.

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Class Size Matters, children from poor and minority backgrounds experience twice the gains of the average student when taught in smaller early elementary grades, reducing the achievement gap by an estimated 38%.

Alan Krueger, who served as chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers for former President Barack Obama, has estimated that every dollar invested in reducing class size yields about $2 in benefits, and that’s not including savings from lower rates of grade retention or special education referrals, both of which fall when class sizes are lowered.

The second bill (2022-S 2570) would include speech-language pathology services under the umbrella of special education, and specifies that speech-language pathology services would not be terminated solely because a child has attained 9 years of age or greater. The bill is supported by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. 

“As a speech pathologist, I see many children who are still in need of speech therapy when they are 9 or older. There’s such a wide range in the needs of children. Services need to be provided according to each individual child’s needs and progress, not cut off at a predetermined age, particularly one that is so young,” said Senator Gallo, who works as a speech language pathologist for the Cranston Public Schools.

Both bills now go to the House of Representatives, which has approved companion legislation (2022-H 7273) to the speech therapy bill, sponsored by House Education Committee Chairman Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston).