Forum draws attention to importance of early childhood education

Forum draws attention to importance of early childhood education

Gov. Gina Raimondo reads a book during a trip to the Heritage Park YMCA Monday to highlight the need for greater investments in early childhood education.

PAWTUCKET – Rhode Island Kids Count released its newest publication, Investing in the Future: Financing Early Education & Care in Rhode Island, at Heritage Park YMCA Monday. Officials at the roundtable event emphasized the importance of investing in early childhood education.

“By investing and supporting programs like pre-kindergarten and all-day kindergarten, we’re putting our kids on the path to success,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo. “This kind of solid foundation is what we need in order to reach the goal I announced last week: by 2025, three out of four 3rd-graders will read on grade level. Expanding access to high-quality preschool is essential to achieving that goal.”

Rhode Island Kids Count senior policy analyst Leanne Barrett shared the agency’s latest findings on early childhood education and care. Key findings and recommendations include:

• Implementing a tiered reimbursement system for the child care assistance program.

• Expanding public preschool options for 3- and 4-year-olds, especially low-income children.

• And investing in early childhood educators.

Raimondo and other officials were given a tour of three early childhood classrooms at Heritage Park YMCA, the largest licensed early learning center in Rhode Island and the center that serves the most children receiving child care subsidies. Heritage Park opened a new state pre-K classroom in September, one of 23 new state pre-K classrooms providing preschool to 414 new 4-year-olds statewide.

The first five years in a child’s life are crucial to their success in school, states a release. Children begin learning at birth, and brain development proceeds rapidly in early childhood. Disparities in learning based on access to enriched experiences and environments begin to appear in the first years of life and, without intervention, grow over time. Access to high-quality early learning opportunities from birth through kindergarten entry, at home and in the community, helps prepare children for success in school, according to the release.

Children in higher income families are more likely to attend preschool than children from lower income families, the new publication finds.

Public funding for child care, Head Start, and pre-K helps some low-income families enroll in high-quality early learning programs, but many children from low- and moderate-income income families are left out due to limited public funding.

Studies show that the return on investment is greater for early childhood interventions than later investments.

“Economically, it makes more sense to invest early,” states the release.

“When thinking about the economic and education goals for Rhode Island, it’s crucial that we examine our starting place,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count. “Research shows that the earlier education investments are made, the greater the return. As Rhode Island looks to the future, we need to strategically invest in and expand access to the continuum of programs that we know support the learning and development of our children – from the very beginning.”

As of the 2016-2017 school year, 39 percent of low-income 4-year-olds, and 20 percent of all 4-year-olds in Rhode Island, are enrolled in a publicly funded preschool.

Rhode Island’s state pre-K program has been recognized as one of only seven in the United States to meet all recommended quality benchmarks, but the state is ranked among the lowest nationally (41st of 43 states) in terms of access for 4-year-olds.