opinion Newport Rhode Island

Early education can be a transformative force in a child’s life.
Research has demonstrated the immense value of prekindergarten programs. In these settings, children find structure, support and enrichment, setting them up for success in K-12 schooling and beyond.
That yields so many other benefits for families and communities – and, ultimately, for all of us.
Access to this essential resource should never depend on where a child lives or whether a family can afford it. Unfortunately, right now, that is too often the case.
What’s more, at our current pace, it will be decades before universal pre-Kindergarten access becomes a reality in Rhode Island.
Our children and families cannot wait. Now is the time to take action and dramatically ramp up our progress toward universal pre-K.
Working with the Senate’s leadership, I’ve introduced the Rhode Island Prekindergarten Act to help us realize an ambitious but attainable goal: universal pre-K access for all 3- and 4-year-olds by 2028.
How would we get there?
Over the course of five years, we will significantly expand capacity in our pre-K system. That starts with the addition of 4,000 new seats in the first year, a quarter of which will be reserved for 3-year-olds.
We will take a mixed-delivery approach to this expansion, utilizing both public classrooms and private pre-K providers.
Through other legislation unveiled alongside the Prekindergarten Act, we will take a unified approach to early childhood care and education.
Another bill I’ve introduced would create a new Office of Early Childhood Development and Learning. That office would administer all of Rhode Island’s early child care and pre-K programs, providing an enhanced level of focus and involving key stakeholders in policymaking as we ramp up our pre-K system.
It’s time for Rhode Island to take a more urgent approach to early childhood care and education. We need a more unified focus on the programs we provide our children in their youngest years, which are so critical for their development.
Through a bill sponsored by Sen. Alana DiMario, we will create Early Learning Hubs across the state to offer expertise and assistance to providers. These Hubs will catalyze innovation and forge partnerships across our communities.
We will also invest in our early educator and child care workforce through Sen. Sandra Cano’s Early Educator Investment Act. By focusing on raising wages to meet national benchmarks, we can ensure our early childhood service providers can attract and retain the dedicated, talented staffers they need.
But the cornerstone – the basic foundation for future success – lies in ensuring universal access to quality pre-Kindergarten classrooms. This will strengthen Rhode Island’s workforce. It is a crucial step toward providing our children with an educational system that truly prepares them for the 21st century – and for success in a knowledge-based economy that’s changing rapidly every day.
There are many other long-term benefits, too.
Pre-K also provides important support for families by allowing more parents and guardians to return to work.
Because of the better outcomes pre-K creates for kids, it will help reduce strain on vital services and save money.
And it will help us address disparities that have existed in our communities for far too long.
Several years ago, I was proud to play a role in expanding all-day kindergarten to all communities in Rhode Island.
We have seen the positive effects of that throughout our state.
Now, I am immensely proud to be sponsoring the Rhode Island Prekindergarten Act.
Together, let’s set the course for a brighter future – for all our children.

Hanna M. Gallo is a Democrat representing District 27 (Cranston, West Warwick) in the Rhode Island Senate. She is Senate President Pro Tempore and Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Education.