As the Rhode Island Senate convenes this month, I plan for us to embark upon a transformational session for our state. The federal relief funds distributed to Rhode Island offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvest in our state and its people.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing learning gaps. Our children – our most precious asset – risk falling even further behind because of the social and emotional isolation they have confronted during the pandemic.
All children deserve access to quality pre-k, but at the current pace we are adding classrooms Rhode Island won’t achieve universal access for another three decades. We must shorten that timeline, which is why the Senate leadership is committed to implementing universal pre-k within the next five years.
Quality pre-k bridges achievement gaps and improves children’s development. Research shows a tremendous return on investment, including long-term savings in special education and social programs.
No-Cost College for Teachers and Nurses
Rhode Island needs to invest in its care economy and workers. Dire shortages in nursing and associated medical fields threaten health care delivery to our most vulnerable populations, and the state’s teacher shortage looms large over our public discourse on education. World-class health care and education are the foundation to building a stronger Rhode Island.
Strengthening the care economy begins with building accessible and inclusive pathways to fulfilling careers in the medical and teaching professions. We must remove the financial barriers of higher education to enable individuals to pursue these careers. In the coming weeks, the Senate will unveil a proposal that promises student loan relief to individuals who graduate from our public universities and work in qualifying “care economy” fields for a minimum of five years.
Improving Water Infrastructure
Climate change has accelerated the need to protect and improve the delivery of Rhode Island’s most important resource – clean water. Federal infrastructure dollars present the opportunity to replace lead pipe infrastructure, repair structurally deficient dams, and prevent the loss of water infrastructure from sea level rise. All Rhode Islanders deserve potable water and safe communities.
Climate Change and Climate Jobs
Our coastal state has already experienced the effects of climate change. Following passage of the historic Act on Climate in 2021, the Senate will redouble its efforts to enact strong climate legislation, beginning with establishing a pathway to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Furthermore, several senators have developed a robust package of legislation that comprehensively addresses the impacts of climate change head-on. Because there is no greater threat to our children and grandchildren than climate change, it will include a proposal to incentivize the development of clean, green schools. Our children deserve to learn in environmentally sound, state-of-the-art facilities.
I am excited about a transformational session in 2022. Alongside these issues, the Senate will also be focused on many others. Affordable child care remains a top priority, as does affordable housing. We will be working to support small businesses, supporting the construction of a girls’ residential psychiatric treatment facility, and improving voting access.
While the pandemic continues to challenge us in many ways, I know that brighter days are ahead. Let’s seize this opportunity to start building the future our children and grandchildren deserve.
Dominick J. Ruggerio (D – Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) is President of the Rhode Island Senate.