RIght from the Start is a legislative and budget campaign to advance state policies for young children and their families in Rhode Island. During the COVID-19 crisis, it has become even more clear that policies and programs that help families with young children are essential for a strong economy and public health. Investments now will help our state and Rhode Island’s young children and families weather this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side.
The RIght from the Start campaign has shared a series of recommendations (see full letter) on how to improve child care & early learning programs with President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition team:
- Prioritize robust funding for core early childhood programs in any COVID relief package and in President-Elect Biden’s budgets, particularly his first budget. The biggest challenge facing all of our non-public school programs is a staffing crisis that was present before COVID-19 and has only gotten worse during the pandemic. Staffing challenges are due to low funding levels (from government and families who generally cannot afford to pay any more than they are currently paying), inadequate wages and benefits (including inadequate paid sick time and health insurance for educators), low education/training levels of staff, inadequate supervision/coaching practices, and little to no resources to staff programs when educators are out sick or on quarantine.
- Reconstruct an office of Early Childhood Learning and Development at USED to partner with the Office of Early Childhood Learning and Development at USHHS that oversees Child Care and Head Start. The USED office Early Childhood office could be responsible for policy and funding of public education for children ages 3 to Grade 3, IDEA Part C, and IDEA Part B, Section 619. It could also promote coordination and planning with 21st Century Community Learning Center funding and CCDBG.
- Create/restore a leadership position that has cross-departmental oversight for early learning and development across USHHS and USED. Modeling effective cross-departmental goal setting, planning and implementation, cooperation, funding, oversight, and data sharing is very important to move the field forward, particularly during a crisis.
- Consider moving the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program into the Office of Early Childhood Development at USHHS and promote coordination with Early Head Start and Early Intervention (Part C of IDEA).
- Re-engage State Advisory Councils on Early Care and Education, required under the 2007 Head Start Act, in state and federal processes to fund and oversee early learning and development programs. Provide more clear guidance and support to states on why and how to operate an effective Advisory Council which needs to include strong leadership and participation from non-governmental agencies. Require and provide adequate time for State Advisory Councils to review and sign off on state plans, reports, and grant applications for early childhood funding. Consider providing funding to support basic Council operations to include basic staffing inside and outside government, public websites with Council recommendations, providing stipends for non-salaried stakeholders to participate, providing simultaneous interpretation, and other planning expenses that could include conducting periodic workforce surveys, etc.
- Require states hold public hearings on all major federal grant applications with adequate time to collect and incorporate public input before submission.
- Post copies of all state grant applications and annual performance reports, including budget information and financial reporting, on websites accessible to the public.
- Require federal agencies to post up-to-date compliance and non-compliance information about state early childhood programs, including federal letters written to state agency leaders about compliance and corrective actions required, on websites accessible to the public. Post state corrective action plans submitted to federal agencies.
As Congress continues to work on a second COVID stimulus package, the RIght from the Start campaign recently wrote to Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse urging them to include at least a $10 billion investment to stabilize our nation’s critical child care sector:
Now, more than ever, children are in need of consistent and nurturing caregiving and access to early childhood, afterschool, and summer learning opportunities. Parents are in desperate need of safe options so they can return to work. Rhode Island needs to maintain a stable supply of healthy, safe, and quality child care options.
An investment of $10 billion for our nation’s child care sector in a second federal stimulus package would mean more than $20 million that would flow to Rhode Island’s child care system. This funding is desperately needed to stabilize our child care providers and child care workforce so they can continue to serve Rhode Island’s children and families.
The RIght from the Start campaign recently wrote to Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott urging her to share more data about COVID-19 cases in licensed child care and early learning programs and to prioritize voluntary COVID-19 vaccination availability for our state’s early childhood workforce.
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Raimondo, RIDOH, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Education, Rhode Island’s child care, Head Start, and Pre-Ks have been able to safely reopen, and evidence to date indicates that child care is not associated with significant secondary spread of the coronavirus so long as safety protocols are followed, including quarantining children and staff who have been exposed. This is highly encouraging. Nevertheless, many Rhode Island child care and early learning programs report that they have had to close classrooms and programs when employees, children, and family members were ordered to quarantine due to exposure to COVID or when they contracted COVID. During the months of June and July alone, over 850 individuals were ordered to quarantine for 52 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 associated with a licensed child care or early learning program. Early access to voluntary vaccines for staff will help programs stabilize staffing and reduce the need to close classrooms and programs when individuals are quarantined.
The RIght from the Start campaign recently shared a letter with Governor Raimondo’s office on recommendations to improve Rhode Island’s 2020-2023 Early Childhood Care and Education Strategic Plan, a key part of the state’s Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) federal grant.
The Providence Business News has published a powerful commentary piece, “Threat to child care sector is far-reaching,” by Dr. Pamela High and Anna Aizer of Brown University on the critical need for our state and federal leaders to invest in child care.
To ensure that our child care sector survives to support Rhode Island’s working families, these rate increases and payment practices must be made permanent. The Child Care Relief Fund should be expanded to help more providers with staffing costs, including programs that serve middle-income families not eligible for assistance but unable to pay the full cost of quality care. In addition, we should implement recommendations from Rhode Island’s Infant/Toddler Educator Task Force, that the state offer a wage enhancement to attract and retain qualified early educators in child care programs.
While Rhode Island is facing a difficult budget environment, any cuts to state child care funding would be shortsighted, threatening the supply of child care slots at precisely the time they are needed most.
At the federal level, Congress must act to pass the Child Care Is Essential Act, a $50 billion infusion of aid to stabilize the child care industry that would bring over $100 million to Rhode Island for this essential work.
There will be no robust recovery without a strong system of child care. That is why now is the time for our state and Congressional leaders to support working families and young children by investing in our nation’s critical child care infrastructure.
Despite their critical role in child learning and development, Rhode Island’s early educators are among the lowest paid workers in the state, making on average about $12 per hour. It’s time to ensure wages of frontline staff exposed to the virus are above poverty level, and educators that have early childhood credentials, degrees, and demonstrate effective practice are rewarded with increased wages.
Quality, affordable child care was out of reach for too many Rhode Island parents who needed it before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more state and federal stimulus funding is desperately needed to ensure our child care providers can operate safely, our frontline essential worker early educators receive worthy wages, and our working families have access to quality, affordable child care options during the ongoing pandemic.
Check out our Rhode Island Child Care in the Time of COVID infographic and be sure to contact your legislators to let them know #ChildCareIsEssential!
Parenting is hard and families can use extra help nurturing their babies and setting them up for a healthy life. Rhode Island has a strong network of voluntary, evidence-based home visiting prevention programs that help guide parents during these critical early years when a child’s brain is rapidly developing and laying the foundation for future learning, health, and behavior. We need to invest $1.3 million in state and federal funding to sustain these programs that are proven to help build more strong, healthy families today and save costs over time.
Early educators are some of our children’s first teachers yet make only $12 per hour.
The RIght from the Start campaign today released a new video, “WorthyWages for Rhode Island’s Early Educators,” detailing low pay for Rhode Island’s 3,000 early educators (child care, home visitors, and early intervention specialists) and the need for state policy makers to implement strategies to improve wages for this critical workforce. The RIght from the Start campaign is also urging the General Assembly to pass two pieces of related legislation (H-7271, S-246) directing relevant state agencies to establish an early educators’ target wage scale and develop strategies to close wage gaps.
“Early educators in child care, home visiting and Early Intervention are our children’s first teachers and they provide essential support to families, yet in Rhode Island they earn very low wages,” said John Kelly, President and CEO of Meeting Street which operates all three programs. “Many early educators have associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, but inadequate state and federal funding means that we struggle to pay competitive wages and many move onto other better paying career paths. That’s not right. Working with children during their most important years of development is critically important and these professionals should be treated accordingly. We need more gifted, educated, and compassionate people choosing this important career path. It’s time for Rhode Island to implement strategies and policies to pay our early educators professionals the wages they deserve.”
“Rhode Island’s early educators are very much front-line responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for our children, helping young families, and allowing working parents to get to their jobs,” said Representative Julie Casimiro (Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter). “These professionals deserve worthy wages and that’s why I am pushing hard for the passage of the Early Educator Investment Act to develop and implement strategies to improve the compensation for early educators. This legislation would have no immediate fiscal impact and would direct our state agencies to develop an early educators’ target wage scale. We owe it to our early educators, especially during these challenging times when they are stepping up, to pay them worthy wages.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has made us realize more than ever just how important Rhode Island’s early educators are to working families and our economy,” said Senator Sandra Cano (Dist. 8, Pawtucket). “They provide high quality educational and support services to our state’s children and families, many already have or are working to earn associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, yet we pay them unacceptably low wages that lead to high turnover. We can and we must do better and that’s why I’m urging my Senate colleagues to pass legislation establishing an early educators target wage scale. This is just a first step, but an important one towards paying our early educators the worthy wages they deserve for the work they do.”
“Addressing low wages for Rhode Island’s early education workforce is both about addressing gender and racial equity as nearly 99% of early educators are women and the majority are of color,” said Kelly Nevins, Executive Director of the Women’s Fund. “Rhode Island’s working families depend on high quality child care and related services, and our early educator workforce deserves wages worthy of the critical role they plan. They are the essential workers upon which much of our economy depends. Women’s Fund of Rhode Island strongly supports legislation and policies to improve the wages of our state’s early educators.”
High-quality early childhood programs have effective educators who know how to work with children and families to support young children’s rapid brain development. However, many early educators earn wages that are at the bottom of the occupational ladder ($12/hour for child care teachers). Effective professionals are leaving the field for better paying jobs. It’s time for Rhode Island to implement strategies and policies to pay our early educators the worthy wages they deserve.
Take action today by contacting your state legislators to urge them to pass legislation to pay our early educators worthy wages.