Making Great Strides in Early Childhood Policies in Rhode Island

Thanks to lots of hard work by many advocates, legislators, and state administrators, Rhode Island is making progress in expanding and adopting policies to promote the success of young children and their families.

Key policy victories during 2016 include:

Evidence-Based Home Visiting: The Rhode Island Family Home Visiting Act passed, codifying key elements of the state’s home visiting system into law. The law requires the Rhode Island Department of Health to work together with other state agencies to identify and offer vulnerable families the opportunity to enroll in voluntary, evidence-based family home visiting programs that improve child outcomes.

Early Intervention (Part C of IDEA):  Legislation passed that requires health insurance providers to pay for Early Intervention services at rates at least equal to Medicaid rates. The $5,000 cap on billing private health insurance for Early Intervention services was removed in 2015.

Paid Family Leave: The state’s paid family leave program (Temporary Caregivers Insurance), launched in 2014, remains stable.  A bill that would have limited access to the program by allowing employees to opt-out of the state-managed insurance program was defeated. Rhode Island is one of only three states with a paid family leave program.

Earned Income Tax Credit:  Legislation passed that will increase the state’s refundable Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 12.5% of the federal tax credit to 15%. This program supplements the federal EITC which provides financial resources to thousands of Rhode Island low-income families.

Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP): The FY 2017 budget adds $8.4 million in funding to serve all eligible children and meet the anticipated increase in costs as Rhode Island implements all of the changes required under CCDBG Reauthorization. This is the largest increase in CCAP funding in more than a decade. Legislation also passed that extends the Child Care Transition Program (cliff effect policy) by one year.

State Pre-K and Head Start:  The FY 2017 budget includes $5.2 million in state funding ($1.2 million increase from FY 2016) and $5.8 million in federal funding for the State Pre-K program, providing 1,008 four-year-olds in 11 low-income Rhode Island communities with access to high-quality preschool through a diverse delivery system. State funding to supplement federal funding for Head Start was maintained at $800,000. This funding allows 130 low-income three- and four-year-old children statewide to participate in Head Start, in addition to the 2,100 children who are served through federal funding.

English Language Learners:  The state’s education funding formula includes $2.5 million in new funding to support evidence-based programs for ELLs enrolled in public schools.  Many ELLs are in K-3 but this extends through all grades.

Full-Day Kindergarten:  Allocates $2.6 million in the FY 2017 budget to ensure access to full-day kindergarten statewide for 2016-2017. Legislation passed in 2015 requires all school districts in Rhode Island to provide universal full-day kindergarten by August 2016.

Public School Recess Mandate:  The Free Play Recess Act passed, which requires at least 20 consecutive minutes of free-play recess daily for all children attending public elementary schools (K-6) and discourages teachers from withholding recess for punitive reasons.

Chronic Early Absence: Legislation passed that expands school attendance requirements to include kindergarten students. This legislation does not change the age at which children must begin school.

Closing the Achievement Gap by Third Grade: Legislation passed that requires the RI Board of Education to adopt a state goal of closing the achievement gap in third-grade reading and math.

Additional Work Needed
Although much has been accomplished, Rhode Island advocates have additional policy priorities they will continue to advance, including working to implement a robust tiered reimbursement system for the Child Care Assistance Program (starting with infants and toddlers first) to expand access to high quality child care, obtaining additional funding to support the Early Learning Program quality improvement efforts, and promoting policies that improve the economic security of families with young children.  

-Leanne Barrett
Senior Policy Analyst

PHOTO: Representative Grace Diaz and Governor Gina Raimondo at an early childhood rally at the Rhode Island State House.

(July 7, 2016)