STATE HOUSE – Today is Child Care Awareness day and the Senate celebrated by passing a package of bills from Sen. Hanna Gallo, Sen. Sandra Cano and Sen. Alana DiMario to strengthen Rhode Island’s child care system.
Taken together, the senators say, the bills will help provide all Rhode Island children the best possible chance for success in school and in life and provide critical support for parents so they can earn a living and stay engaged in the workforce.
Studies have found that investments in early childhood education have significant economic returns, ranging from $4 to $9 per dollar invested, based on the quality of the program. Children who have access to quality early learning perform better in school, have higher lifetime earnings and are less likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
One of the bills (2023-S 0492), sponsored by Senator Cano who serves as Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education, would instruct the state to establish benchmarks and a plan to increase salaries for early childhood educators to bring them in line with K-12 educators. The state would focus on how to recruit and retain quality educators to ensure child care was available for families that need it. About 100,000 child care professionals have left the field since the COVID-19 pandemic, many for higher paying jobs in K-12 education.
“These educators are tasked with one of the most important jobs in the world, preparing our kids for school and life,” said Senator Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “How can we expect them to do this crucial, difficult work for poverty wages? All of our state’s educators, at all levels, deserve to feel secure, supported, and respected. We need to step up and invest in our kids by investing in our educators.”
This bill passed by a vote of 34 to 0.
Also with an eye on recruiting and retaining the child care workforce, Senator DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham) is sponsoring a bill (2023-S 0185) that would create up to five Early Learning Hubs across Rhode Island. The hubs would serve as one-stop service centers to support child care providers, and those looking to become providers, to access resources, receive technical assistance, obtain their license, meet research-based quality standards and improve their quality ratings.
“Our early childhood system is so incredibly important for our state’s future and our economy today,” said Sen. DiMario. “The childcare workforce is a huge part of the equation and we need more quality child care providers throughout our state. These Early Learning Hubs will help educators enter the field and help existing providers access the training and resources they need.”
This bill passed by a vote of 32 to 2.
The third bill (2023-S 0482) in the package, sponsored Senator Gallo who serves as President Pro Tempore, would create a state Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning to coordinate the many programs, rules and regulations relating to child care throughout the state. The agency would have its own director and staff and would assume responsibilities related to child care and early learning, including the Child Care Assistance Program and supervision of the state’s pre-school programs. Currently, these responsibilities are handled by other agencies such as the Department of Human Services (DHS) or the Rhode Island Department of Education (RDIE). But Senator Gallo believes a dedicated agency is needed.
“Quality early learning and child care is absolutely vital for our state,” said Senator Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick). “Managing this system is complex and other departments, like RIDE and DHS, have so many different responsibilities. We need a dedicated state agency to focus on ensuring all our kids get the support they deserve.”
This bill passed by a vote of 30 to 4.
All three bills now head to the House, which is considering its own child care bills including one (2023-H 5094) sponsored by Rep. Julie Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter) which mirrors Senator Cano’s bill.