Here’s a powerful campaign promise: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras says that if he wins Rhode Island’s gubernatorial race, he will launch a massive expansion of his state’s preschool programs.
The Brown Daily Herald reported that Taveras has “a goal of enrolling 76 percent of the state’s eligible children in pre-kindergarten by the end of his first term in office and accommodating all eligible students by 2023.”
His approach is explained in the policy report, “Ready Rhode Island: Angel Taveras’ Plan for Universal Pre-Kindergarten.”
“Research shows that supporting early childhood education is a direct investment in the building blocks of long-term economic development,” Taveras writes in the report. “Universal pre-kindergarten is a critically important first-step in strengthening Rhode Island’s cradle-to-career workforce development pipeline.”
Taveras himself is a Head Start graduate, and he has praised the program on the Our Head Start website, writing, “When I was at Harvard, I found out my roommate from Poughkeepsie also attended Head Start. We always joked, ‘There must be something about that program…!’”
In Rhode Island, preschool programs have room to grow. “In 2012, Rhode Island ranked 40th in the United States in access to pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds, according to a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research,” the Daily Herald says.
Taveras’ plan, the article explains, is “to increase the number of state-funded pre-kindergarten slots from around 230 in fiscal year 2014 to 700 by 2016 and 2,650 by 2019. The expansion would cost the state $6.5 million in its first year of implementation, rising to additional annual costs of $24.6 million by year four. The total cost would amount to less than 1 percent of the state’s education budget, according to the plan.”
Taveras joins President Obama, Governor Patrick, New York’s Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, and Boston’s Mayor-elect Walsh in a growing national chorus of political leaders who have called for the expansion of preschool programs.
To pay for this expansion, Taveras is proposing a multifaceted plan, a combination of federal education funds and cost savings in other areas. Taveras hopes to use “a small portion of the state’s allocated Title I federal funding for low-income students as well as additional federal grants, foundation grants and state savings,” the Daily Herald says.
In addition, “The plan proposes raising capital by reducing enrollment at the Rhode Island Training School, a boarding school for struggling youth, creating drug courts to reduce criminal justice costs, establishing a competitive bidding process for contracts to provide state vehicle maintenance and decreasing employee overtime at state hospitals and prisons.”
Praising the high quality of Rhode Island’s pre-k program, Taveras notes in his policy report that, “access is limited to a lucky few. As Governor, I will achieve universal pre-kindergarten in our state, serving half of all eligible children by the end of my first term in office. We won’t sacrifice quality, and we will expand full-day kindergarten at the same time.”
It’s a compelling campaign promise that’s also smart public policy.