Taveras Says Funding Statewide Pre-K Is Feasible and Smart

Nov 26, 2013

Credit Ian Donnis / RIPR

So how are you going to pay for a plan to institute pre-kindergarten for every eligible child in Rhode Island?

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, says cutting $90 million in state overtime costs by 10 percent would offer more than enough money for the first year of instituting universal pre-K. Additional money, he says, could come from trimming maintenance costs for state vehicles; tapping grants and foundations; trimming a bit of the $15 million spent each year on the state's juvenile correctional facility; and using a small percentage of the $49 million in federal Title I education money received by the state each year.

Ultimately, Taveras argued during a Tuesday morning news conference at the Pawtucket YMCA, there's a far greater cost to not investing in early childhood education.

Regarding the state Training School, he said, It’s about $98,000 per child that we have there, $98,000. And what’s the return that we’re seeing on that? And if we don’t invest now earlier, earlier, we’re going to continue to see that type of spending later."

Taveras emphasized his own Head Start-to-Harvard journey when he ran for mayor in 2010, so it's unsurprising that his first policy initiative as a statewide candidate focuses on early childhood education.

Rhode Island compares poorly with most other New England states, as well as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the percentage of eligible 4-year-olds enrolled in state pre-K programs, according to information released by Taveras campaign. The campaign says Rhode Island spent $2.45 million on a state-funded pre-K program in fiscal 2014, serving 252 children.

Countless studies have touted the economic value of investing in early childhood education.

Taveras' plan calls for raising the number of pre-K seats in Rhode Island from 700 in fiscal 2016 to 1,350 in fiscal 2017, 2000 in fiscal 2018, and 2,650 in fiscal 2018. It also sets a goal of establishing statewide full-day kindergarten.

The mayor dismissed a question about the outlook for raising early childhood education funding with the state facing a $150 million deficit for the next fiscal year, pointing to how his administration cut down an inherited $110 million deficit.