Speakers talk about the need for more funding for early child care services in Rhode Island at the RIght from the Start campaign event on Wednesday, June 7, at Child, Inc. in Warwick. (Photo courtesy of RIght from the Start)
An amendment for $7 million in funding in Gov. Dan McKee’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget for early childhood programs was added to the House floor calendar for a vote Friday, just two days after activists called for more funding for Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
The RIght from the Start campaign on Wednesday had held a press conference in Warwick to call for for an additional $6.5 million to fund the programs.
“Quality child care is very important to the House and Senate leadership and membership, and many members encouraged me to help find resources to help preserve these vital programs,” Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi, a Warwick Democrat, said in a press release.
“It is critical that we continue to address staffing shortages within both programs in a sustainable way.”
The $7 million would come from unspent federal funds. Of that, $3 million would go toward the preservation of Head Start and Early Head Start seats and another $4 million would be for expanding eligibility for childcare to child care workers at no cost.
A staffing crisis has drastically shrunk classroom capacity for Head Start and Early Head Start programs across Rhode Island. Since 2020, 30 of the state’s 108 Head Start classrooms and 11 of 40 Early Head Start’s have closed.
At its Wednesday meeting, the RIght from the Start campaign, associated with children’s advocacy organization Rhode Island Kids Count, called on the General Assembly to invest the following:
- $3 million in state general revenue money to Head Start and Early Head Start programs to help programs compensate teachers and staff and reopen classrooms.
- $2 million in federal or state funding to raise the family income required for Head Start programs from 200% to 225% of the federal poverty level. Currently, Rhode Island’s family income cutoff is $49,720 for a family of three.
- $1.5 million put towards increased pay for workers in early childhood education.
“The RIght from the Start campaign thanks Speaker Shekarchi for finding state budget resources to ensure that more Head Start and Early Head Start classrooms are be able to open in September than the previous year, and for supporting our workforce of child care and early education professionals,” said Paige Clausius-Parks, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count.
“Child care and early learning programs are foundational to Rhode Island’s kids, families, and our economy. They provide our babies and young children with high quality learning opportunities, and they enable parents to work and contribute to our economy.
“All of that is enabled by our workforce of early educators who deserve worthy wages for the work they do,” she continued. “We are grateful to Speaker Shekarchi for making these needed investments that will help to ensure all Rhode Island kids get off to the right start.”
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