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Every child — no matter their race, religion, socioeconomic status or zip code — deserves a great education and a strong start to get them on the right path. Every child deserves access to high-quality Pre-K.

As a mom, I know how big of an impact Pre-K can have on a child’s development. When my kids were in Pre-K, I was amazed by how much they learned and how quickly they grew. Andy and I were lucky that we had the resources to send our kids to a highly-rated pre-K program. But unfortunately, too many families in our state are struggling to afford the high cost.

No child should be priced out of the critical foundation for learning and development that Pre-K provides. In the last four years, Rhode Island has made significant progress towards ensuring equity for our littlest learners. We’ve brought universal, all-day kindergarten to every district in our state. And we’ve tripled the number of public Pre-K seats available since 2015. Today, more than a thousand 4-year-olds attend one of our high-quality state pre-K classes.

Thanks to our investments, Rhode Island has become a national leader in quality Pre-K. In fact, we’re one of only three states that consistently meets national quality benchmarks, and U.S. News & World Report recognized our program as the highest quality in the country.

But right now, there are hundreds of kids on our waiting list, and acceptance to one of our classrooms is determined by lottery. This year, I’m proposing a $10 million investment to expand public Pre-K in Rhode Island. By this fall, we’ll add an additional 540 seats while maintaining the highest standard of quality — that’s a 50 percent increase in one year. We’ll continue to grow every year, and by 2024, there will be 7,000 seats — enough for every 4-year-old in the state whose parents want them to go.

Study after study shows that the time before kindergarten is crucial to learning. Pre-K programs have a significant effect on educational outcomes, particularly for low-income students. They help close the achievement gap. And students who attend Pre-K are more likely to have higher reading skills by third grade, one of the greatest predictors of a child’s academic success.

Universal Pre-K is also a great investment: a universal pre-K program can yield as much as $8.90 in benefits for every dollar invested. We know that making these investments now will pay off down the road with increased high school graduation rates, increased educational attainment and increased lifetime earnings.

Rhode Island’s economy has come a long way in the past four years. Our unemployment rate is in line with the national average and major companies have put down roots in our state. But in order to protect our progress and ensure our long-term economic success, we need our kids to succeed. We need to invest in the next generation.

Nothing prepares a child for their future better than a high-quality education. Let’s set our kids — and our state — on a path to prosperity. Let’s make universal, high-quality Pre-K a reality in Rhode Island.

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