When it comes to pre-kindergarten programs, Rhode Island is slowly becoming one of the best states in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research’s annual State of Preschool Yearbooks released yesterday.
“Rhode Island is a leader on funding per child and preschool quality standards, meeting all 10 current and new benchmarks,” said a NIEER press release specific to the Ocean State. The nation-wide media advisory said Rhode Island and Alabama “are the only states meeting all 10 new (and current) benchmarks.”
The preK praise from NIEER represents a complete reversal from Rhode Island’s reputation only a few years ago. “Rhode Island has historically ranked last in the country,” wrote WPRI reporter Dan McGowan in 2014. But a multi-year federal grant, as well as annual increases in state spending, have vaulted RI from worst to somewhere closer to first when it comes to state-sponsored preschool.
“This is exciting news for our state, as we work to improve and expand early childhood programming for Rhode Island students and families,” said Barbara Cottam, chair of the state Board of Education. Added Elizabeth Burke-Bryant, of Rhode Island Kids Count, “It is great news that Rhode Island is leading the nation in the quality of our state’s Pre-Kindergarten program.”
Rhode Island met “all 10 of NIEER’s new quality standards benchmarks, meeting new requirements for early learning and development standards that are culturally sensitive, supported, and aligned with other state standards and child assessments,” according to the press release. “They also meet the new curriculum supports benchmark and the requirement for professional development, ongoing-coaching, and individualized professional development plans for both lead and assistant teachers. Rhode Island also has a continuous quality improvement system.”
RI Future reported on the state’s preK program earlier this month: “This September, the state-funded pre-kindergarten program adds four new classrooms in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, increasing the overall number of classrooms to 60 in 11 cities with the highest rates of poverty in Rhode Island. The total number of students served by the program increases by 13 to 1,008. The Rhode Island Pre-Kindergarten Program began nine years ago with just 126 students.”
NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett seemed to echo that post’s headline in his comment about the Ocean State. “We see Rhode Island making slow progress on enrollment while maintaining policies to support a high-quality program,” he said. “More work is needed to expand access to high-quality pre-K that helps children get the best possible start in life.”
But some conservatives aren’t always fond of publicly-funded preschool. Earlier this month of Twitter, Mike Stenhouse, of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, called the program, “Nothing but unionized babysitting.” (He declined a subsequent offer to visit one of the preschool programs, writing, “What would be the point? This is about telling truth about how taxpayer $$ are being spent.”
@bobplain Nothing but unionized baby-sitting …
— Mike Stenhouse (@MSten37) May 4, 2017
Governor Gina Raimondo, on the other hand, thinks public preschool is a good investment for Rhode Island.
“Investing in early childhood education is an investment in the future success of all students, and that investment is starting to pay off,” she said. “Now, we must stay the course and continue these critical investments. We have high-quality programs in place, and I remain committed to expanding access to more students and families across Rhode Island.”