Too often, the term “early childhood education” brings to mind preschool or Kindergarten. But learning does not begin at age four or five; it begins at birth. In the first several years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second. If we believe that an educated citizenry is important for our nation’s growth, then education funding should begin when children are infants.
Nurturing relationships with caregivers – whether parents or teachers – are vital to normal brain development. This concept that parents are a child’s first teacher is the basis for the federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program. For FY 2017, $372 million has been allotted to this program, which distributes funding to grantees in all 50 states. These grants provide guidance and support to parents in their own homes. Although that may sound like a lot of money, MIECHV grantees served less than 150,000 parents and children nationwide in 2015; that’s fewer than 4% of the babies born in the United States that year.
Parents Magazine conducted a study of their readers, and more than 84% reported “finding affordable quality care is either a challenge, very hard or impossible.” Since only 23% of all moms and 3% of all dads stay at home with their children, this is a significant problem.
Quality childcare environments – which should all be called early childhood education centers, because young children are constantly learning – can be expensive. In addition, guidelines call for small class sizes, so spaces fill up quickly. Lack of access to quality early childhood education can exacerbate the achievement gap between low-income students and their wealthier peers. In 2015, the average cost of childcare in Rhode Island was $12,091 for an infant and $10,172 for a preschooler.
Although we do have a childcare subsidy program in Rhode Island, it has declined over the years as copayments have increased and eligibility requirements have been tightened. In fact, our state ranks among the least affordable for childcare. In Providence, over 3,400 residents received childcare subsidies in December 2015. To qualify for the subsidy, a family must have an income less than 180% of the Federal Poverty Level ($36,162 per year for a family of three) and parents must work a minimum of 20 hours per week.
An article published in the Brown University Political Review stated that a child who never receives high-quality early childhood care and education is “25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teenage parent and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.” These are dramatic statistics. Several studies have shown that, for every $1 spent on early childhood education, there is a $4 to $9 return on that investment, as the community saves on remedial and special education services, social programs and juvenile detention facilities. The World Bank released a working paper in 2015 highlighting the positive long-term effects of early childhood interventions internationally.
As a society, we need to broaden our definition of education to include all children, from birth to age 18. Our governor has committed $30 million per year to the Rhode Island Promise college education initiative; what if a similar sum were committed to guarantee quality early childhood education experiences for every child? Perhaps we could institute a sliding scale tuition program, so that all families could choose to send their children to a high-quality early childhood education program and all children could have the best possible start in life. Or our state could offer grants or tax-credits to employers who choose to offer accredited child care programs on-site. How might this impact the city of Providence?
Consider these facts from the 2016 RI Kids Count Factbook. Almost 40% of Providence children live in poverty, with 18.8% of them classified as living in extreme poverty. For children under the age of 6, over 40% are living in poverty. Our four-year high school graduation rate is 75%, with 11% of students dropping out completely. 172 of our 16,515 teenagers (ages 13 – 18) were in the care or custody of the Rhode Island Training School (juvenile detention) in 2015. From 2010 - 2014, there were 1,376 teenage girls in Providence who became pregnant.
We believe that public education is a right and that all children deserve a quality education – not only because it embodies the principles of equality that this country was founded on, but also because an educated citizenry is good for all of us. Today’s infants and toddlers are tomorrow’s inventors, CEOs, doctors and politicians. We must invest in our future by investing in them.
PPSD Adds New Members to Leadership Team
The Providence Public School District (PPSD) has added two new hires to its leadership team. Chief Academic Officer Thomas Flanagan heads the district’s Division of Teaching and Learning, where he leads curriculum, instruction, assessment and school improvement initiatives. Previously, Flanagan served as deputy chief of specialized instruction for the Washington, DC, Public School District. Heather Tow-Yick is the new Chief Transformation Officer, overseeing district level transformation to increase support and resources for schools as part of the district’s transition to greater school-based decision-making. She leads the district’s strategic planning efforts and all data-driven transformation efforts. A native Rhode Islander, Tow-Yick is a graduate of Brown University and was the founding executive director of Teach For America in Rhode Island.
Local A Cappella Group Featured Again on National Compilation
The 18 Wheelers, a co-ed a cappella singing group composed of high school students from the Wheeler School, has been featured for the thirteenth time on the Best of High School A Cappella CD produced
annually by Varsity Vocals. Their recording of “Beauty and a Beat,” originally performed by Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj, was chosen as one of just 18 tracks from high schools around the country. For a list of all the songs and schools featured, visit VarsityVocals.com. You can download the album (or just the song) from iTunes by searching for BOHSA 2017.
Rhode Island Promise – Two Years of Free College
Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed a program that would provide all Rhode Island high school graduates with two years of college, free of tuition and mandatory fees. All students who qualify for in-state tuition and enroll full-time immediately after graduation (or earning a GED) will be eligible. At CCRI, the scholarship will pay for the entire degree for all students who enroll full-time and complete on-time, and at RIC and URI the scholarship will pay for the second half of a student’s education, typically a student’s junior and senior years. The goal of the program is to make college more affordable and encourage RI students to complete their degrees on time. The annual $30 million cost of the program will be paid for through state revenues. For more information, visit FreeCollegeRI.com.