As we continue to battle COVID-19 and recover from the pandemic, Rhode Island has been given an unprecedented economic opportunity that will shape the course of our state for generations to come. How we choose to invest the $1.5 billion we received from the American Rescue Plan will impact every Rhode Islander. This money must be used to its maximum benefit, especially for the betterment of our most vulnerable neighbors and those who have been devastated by the pandemic.

In order to have the greatest impact, we must invest this money strategically and, most importantly, sustainably. Any new programs or initiatives must be designed to outlive this one-time funding, and every investment should have positive returns for our state, long after the funds run out. That is what will truly transform Rhode Island, and it is no less than what our residents deserve.

There is one segment of our society where these funds could make a real difference to the most people – education. To be sure, an investment in education is an investment in Rhode Island’s economic future, which depends on giving our students every opportunity to compete, thrive, and succeed in an ever-changing global economy, and giving employers of every size access to world-class talent. As the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, I believe there are some crucial areas in our educational system that need this investment.

First, we should commit resources to accelerate the state’s effort to guarantee high-quality, affordable child care and early childhood education. This is essential to a post-pandemic economic recovery; without accessible and affordable child care, we will continue to lose talent – particularly women – from the workforce. We can alleviate the anxiety and financial burden that too many working parents face by investing in the state’s child care infrastructure. We should also use these federal dollars to make pre-kindergarten programs universal and ensure that they are all high quality. The data is clear regarding the numerous positive outcomes associated with early-learning programs, and our kids deserve the chance to take advantage of those benefits.

Second, we should expand after-school and summer programs to make them available to all of our students. Once again, there is ample data showing the benefits of these programs. They not only offer youth safe, supportive spaces outside of school hours, but they are also critical to positive youth development.

Finally, we must increase the access to mental and behavioral health resources in our schools. This is, perhaps, one of the most significant costs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our children suffered as their lives and routines were completely upended. Lockdowns, masking, social distancing, virtual learning – all of these things have added more stress and anxiety that could have long-lasting negative effects if not addressed.

Over the next few months, there will be numerous ideas and proposals regarding how we should spend the ARP funds, but I challenge you to find anyone more worthy and deserving than our children. By investing this money in education, we ensure that our children – indeed, all Rhode Islanders – are successful.

Sen. Sandra Cano

Cano, a Democrat, represents District 8 in Pawtucket.

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