All 4-year-olds in Rhode Island could enroll in state-funded pre-kindergarten education under a proposal announced by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras on Tuesday.
The Democratic candidate for governor said early childhood education is one of the best ways to invest in the state's future workforce. He said spending money on pre-kindergarten programs now will save millions in future correctional and workforce development costs.
"It's such a key building block in economic development," Taveras said after announcing the program at a Pawtucket YMCA. "Those without a high school diploma are four times more likely to be unemployment in Rhode Island. This is an investment in our future."
The plan would cost just under $25 million a year once fully phased in over eight years. The program would be open to children throughout the state, regardless of their family's income though Taveras said he'd like to start the program first in communities with greater poverty. When fully implemented, the plan calls for statewide all-day kindergarten.
Taveras said he'd pay for the program by looking for savings elsewhere in the state's $8 billion budget such as state employee overtime and state vehicle maintenance. He said private foundation support could also defray the cost.
Currently, only about 1 percent of the state's 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state-funded early education program, compared to more than 10 percent in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Some states have much higher participation, with Vermont at 65 percent and Oklahoma at 74 percent.
The proposal is the first major policy announcement from Taveras, who is running for governor after being elected mayor of the state's largest city in 2010.
Other Democrats considering running for governor include state General Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Clay Pell, a former White House staffer and U.S. Department of Education official who is the grandson of the late U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung and Moderate Party founder Ken Block are running as Republicans.