Grant Will Support Governor’s Goal to Expand High-Quality Pre-K

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Governor Gina M. Raimondo and the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet announced today that Rhode Island has been awarded a one-year, $4.19 million federal Preschool Development Grant (PDG). Targeted at youth from birth through age 5, this grant will support the development and coordination of early childhood education and family-centered support programs.

 

“We have no task more important, no investment more worthwhile, than to ensure all children are on a path to success. That is why I have made early child care and expanding Pre-Kindergarten a top priority, both in my last term and moving forward over the next four years,” said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. “We know that children learn best when they are healthy, engaged, and ready to learn. With this federal award, Rhode Island will be able to continue a holistic approach by conducting the research, planning, and system improvements we need to build a strong, family-centered early childhood system.”

 

While PDG funds cannot be used to pay for additional Pre-K seats, the grant will lay important groundwork to make a universal pre-K system possible. PDG funding allows states to better plan and implement quality, early childhood care and education (ECE) programs that prepare children to transition into elementary school. Through this grant, Rhode Island will focus heavily on family and community outreach, ensuring that families know what high-quality options are available and how to access them.

 

In 2015, Governor Raimondo reconvened the Children’s Cabinet, which includes all of the state agencies that serve youth and families. One of the primary tasks that the Cabinet has taken on is the Third Grade Reading Challenge, a call from the Governor to double the number of students reading proficiently by third grade by the year 2025.

 

“A strong start in early childhood lays the foundation for a healthy and bright future,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services and Children’s Cabinet Chair, Lisa Vura Weis. “These federal funds will help our youngest Rhode Islanders as we make progress towards the Governor’s 3rd Grade Reading Action Plan.”

 

“All students need a strong foundation, and that foundation starts at birth, in our homes, communities, doctor’s offices, and, of course, in our schools. Since 2015, we have tripled enrollment in state-funded pre-K, and Rhode Island has been recognized as a national leader in quality programming for our earliest learners,” said Ken Wagner, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education and vice chair of the Children’s Cabinet. “We need to build on that momentum and double down on early childhood education so that every child in Rhode Island has the opportunity to start their educational journey on the right foot.”

 

“Working across our state departments to ensure that our early childhood education system is strong is a key priority for the Department of Human Services. All families should have equal access to high quality early education settings to give them the best chance at success,” said Courtney Hawkins, Director of the Department of Human Services, the lead agency on the PDG grant proposal.

 

“Access to early childhood supports is one of the most important predictors of a child’s social, emotional, and physical health outcomes,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander Scott, MD, MPH.  “Young children have very specific needs during their first five years of life. This grant will strengthen Rhode Island’s early childhood system for meeting those needs and ensuring that all of Rhode Island’s children, regardless of the ZIP code they live in, have access to a high quality educational foundation that will support them to grow, learn, and succeed.”

 

“We already know how important early education is for Rhode Island’s youngest learners. Quality preschool experiences provide an incomparable foundation for our children to grow and become successful adults. Rhode Island is already a leader in early education initiatives and I am happy this grant will build upon those investments,” said Trista Piccola, Director of the Department of Children Youth and Families.

 

In addition to state agencies, Rhode Island’s PDG grant proposal was developed with support from community partners that have been actively engaged in Children’s Cabinet discussions.

 

“This award is very good news. It will help Rhode Island continue to build a high quality, streamlined early childhood system from birth to age 5 that helps to improve children’s developmental and educational outcomes – and that meets the needs of kids and families. This award builds on years of effort throughout the community to ensure that young children have a strong start in life,” said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, Executive Director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

 

Key actions that will be taken in the 2019 calendar year as part of the PDG grant include:

  • Conduct a family needs assessment to better understand families’ experiences, desires, and challenges
  • Enhance online portals that centralize information
  • Pilot a peer-to-peer network for family-based child care providers
  • Increase outreach to support families in choosing quality programs
  • Survey the workforce across all programs, including early childhood special education, home visiting, and HeadStart, to better understand the needs and gaps of the workforce
  • Support professional learning opportunities for early childhood workforce
  • Develop a comprehensive birth through 5 years strategic plan
  • Invest in direct supports for families that promote early learning and parents as educators

Rhode Island and other states receiving PDG funds will be eligible to compete for additional funding over the next three years.

 

The State’s grant application was put together by an interagency team which included the Governor’s Office, Children’s Cabinet, EOHHS, RIDE, DHS, RIDOH, and DCYF in partnership with community partners who contributed valued feedback and support. To learn more about the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet and its work on early childhood education and school readiness, visit kids.ri.gov.