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Raimondo gives details on universal pre-K program

January 17, 2019
Linda Borg
Providence Journal

PAWTUCKET — Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal for universal pre-kindergarten education would add 540 new seats during the first year, and, if the funding continues, would reach 6,000 more children by year four.

A day after her State of the State address, Raimondo made her case for universal pre-kindergarten after posing for photographs with 4- and 5-year-olds at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School, which has two pre-K classrooms.

Raimondo’s new initiative builds on her earlier promise to double the number of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. On Wednesday, she said that Rhode Island can’t reach that goal until it boosts school-ready skills in early childhood.

Her plan calls for spending $10 million in the 2019-2020 school year, plus an estimated $10 million in each of the following three years. Her goal is to reach 7,000 4-year-olds or 70 percent of the eligible children in Rhode Island, which is considered the threshold for universal pre-K.

“Kids flourish because of access to quality pre-K,” Raimondo said Wednesday. “If you don’t start early, these kids are behind by first, second grade.”

In April 2018, Rhode Island was one of three states that met all of the standards set by the National Institute for Early Education Research. At the time, Rhode Island only served just under 9 percent of 4-year-olds, but that represented a 70 percent increase over the previous year. Two years earlier, Rutgers University ranked Rhode Island 41st among 43 states based on the low number of 4-year-olds enrolled in pre-K, but the survey gave Rhode Island top marks in the quality of its programs.