PROVIDENCE — In an “alarming and concerning” trend, 30 Head Start classrooms closed during this school year and 14 other Head Start programs limited enrollment despite a waiting list of more than 230 young children, Rhode Island Kids Count executive director Paige Clausius-Parks said this week.
The state’s leading children’s advocacy organization will release its 2023 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook on Monday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. But Clausius-Parks offered a preview on the Rhode Island Report podcast, saying those 230 children were unable to enroll in Head Start programs because of “the workforce crisis that we’re having right now with early learning programs.”
“The wages are very low for our early childhood programs,” Clausius-Parks said. “We’ve heard some program providers and early educators say they can get paid more working at a fast food restaurant than taking care of our young children, which we know is a critically important job – that we need high quality folks in those positions.”
Head Start is a federally funded program for preschool children ages 3 through 5 who are low-income and/or have high needs.
“However, the state can provide additional funding to support it,” Clausius-Parks said. “So in Massachusetts, they provide additional funding on top of the federal funding, and that’s how they’re able to have higher wages, keep more of those classrooms open. And we need to do the same here in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island used to provide funds for Head Start classrooms before 2008, she said. “We need to restore that funding.”
Clausius-Parks became executive director in December, succeeding Elizabeth Burke Bryant, who stepped down after 28 years leading Rhode Island Kids Count. And she said she shared Burke Bryant’s frustration that Rhode Island has not seen the improvement it needs in student achievement.
“I’m very frustrated, as many folks are, in terms of we’re really struggling to really reach the disparities that we see in education, both by race, ethnicity, and also disability status and language status, as well,” she said. “We need to have a really coordinated plan for how to address equity, and we need to be bold and brave and talk about the implicit bias we see – the systemic racism that we see in education.”
During the podcast, Clausius-Parks also offered her reaction to state Representative Robert J. Quattrocchi, a Scituate Republican who was removed from a House committee in March after he asked a fellow legislator, who is a lesbian, “Are you a pedophile?”
To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.