Senate approves Gallo bills for universal pre-K,
class size limits for primary grades

 

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved two bills sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo to set Rhode Island on a path to offering universal free prekindergarten to 3- and 4-year-olds and expanding child care access for younger children, and limiting size of public classrooms from kindergarten through Grade 2.

The bills now go to the House of Representatives.

The Rhode Island Prekindergarten Education Act (2024-S 2843) calls for a state-managed high-quality, publicly funded prekindergarten program to be sustained and expanded in a mixed-delivery system that includes Head Start agencies, school districts, licensed center-based and family child-care providers. The bill calls for the system to be expanded annually across all communities in Rhode Island until every family who wants a high-quality prekindergarten seat for their 3- or 4-year-old has one.

“Research has shown how incredibly beneficial pre-K is for children, improving everything from test scores and behavior to college enrollment later on. Children who enter kindergarten with experience in school are prepared, and that head start helps them succeed not only that year, but throughout their education,” said Senator Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick). “Access to such a life-changing resource should never depend on where a child lives or whether a family can afford it.”

Under the legislation, the Department of Education, in collaboration with the Department of Human Services, the Head Start Collaboration Office and the Rhode Island Early Learning Council, would submit annual updates on implementation progress and year-by-year growth plans. The bill requires the state to allocate sufficient funding for high-quality programs and ensure competitive wages that retain highly qualified educators.

In addition to all their educational and developmental advantages for children, universal prekindergarten and expansion of high-quality child care programs would better enable parents to work at a time when workers are in short supply and many young families need more income.

The Kindergarten Through Grade Two Maximum Class Size Act (2024-S 2148) would require that as of Oct. 1 of each school year, no more than 20 students may be assigned to each teacher who is teaching core-curricula courses in public school classrooms for kindergarten through Grade 2, except for brief emergencies. An exception could be made if a student enrolls after Oct. 1 and there is no practical, nondisruptive way to add the student to a class without exceeding the limit.

“There are so many benefits to keeping class sizes from becoming too large in the early grades, and they are not limited to the years students are in those classes. Children who begin school in smaller classes have higher achievements throughout their academic careers, including higher graduation rates and better college entrance exam grades. Those students also have better attendance and even better health, motivation and self-esteem,” said Senator Gallo. “Investments in keeping early elementary classes small actually save money on special education and remedial services for students who do not acquire the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in later grades. Just as caring well for seedlings creates strong, healthy plants, nurturing young students gives them the skills, self-confidence and drive to be strong learners for the rest of their lives.”

According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Class Size Matters, children from poor and minority backgrounds experience twice the gains of the average student when taught in smaller classes in the early elementary grades, reducing the achievement gap by an estimated 38%.

Alan Krueger, who served as chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers for former President Barack Obama, has estimated that every dollar invested in reducing class size yields about $2 in benefits, and that’s not including savings from lower rates of grade retention or special education referrals, both of which fall when class sizes are lowered.

 

 

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