State House, Providence – Rhode Island House Republicans will immediately file legislation to address the pressing educational challenges brought on by COVID-19. The Republican plan will: 1) establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which are restricted receipt accounts, funded by tax and CARES Act dollars, but managed by families, to provide additional education tools and home schooling to students in districts without in-person learning; and 2) to provide public school choice to parents of any school that fails to provide in-person learning despite a state determination it is safe to do so.
The legislation will provide options for parents in response to a number of Rhode Island school districts announcing limited educational opportunities for their students in the 2020/2021 school year. The legislation is intended to ensure that their children do not fall behind from remote learning. In any school District that does not provide in-person learning, parents have two options.
First, parents can continue with remote learning, and will be able to utilize ESAs to pay for tutoring, technology, supplies and other extra help measures.
Second, Parents may opt to home-school their children. ESAs will be utilized to fund this home-schooling program.
A third option will be provided to parents in schools that do not provide in-person instruction despite a state determination it is safe to do so. Those parents will be able to send their child to any other public school offering in-person learning, that has capacity, and the money will follow the child to the receiving district.
Funding for these programs will come from the existing per pupil school funding, as well as the utilization of existing CARES Act funding held by the state of Rhode Island and available for these purposes.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will be directed to enact emergency regulation to carry out the intent of this legislation, if enacted.
“Education lays the foundation for human development,” said Leader Blake Filippi. “It is the benchmark of progress within families and our communities. It is the link between cultures, our history and advancements in science. The challenges remote learning presents in overall childhood development, in enhanced socialization skills, and in children’s mental health cannot be understated. Each child needs to learn in an environment conducive to their specific needs, and government’s role is to provide the best setting possible for learning and growth.”
“We believe that parents know what the best learning environment is for their children and that they are the primary advocate for their child's education,” said Representative Michael Chippendale. “We also believe that by empowering families with the use of ESA’s, we are providing various options that will allow parents to determine the best learning environment for their children, and alleviate some of the pressure on the school districts. ESA’s function similarly to health care accounts and 529 college funds, which many families are already accustomed to. ”
"While we strongly agree that districts should embrace in-person learning, we feel that promoting lawsuits will only result in further delays and unnecessary expenditures in legal fees for districts,” said Filippi. “Therefore, we are offering these legislative alternatives to address the issue of education authority within the state, as is our charge per Rhode Island laws. If the House, Senate and Governor are serious about ensuring the best education for our children under the current state of emergency, and in turn embrace our efforts, our initiatives can become law within a week while still following all legal House Rules."
“No child can be expected to develop into an adult with a promising future without the foundation of a solid education, which includes socialization,” said Representative Michael Chippendale. “Currently, our children are experiencing unprecedented interruptions in their learning development and the damage created in not addressing each child’s individual learning needs is our greatest fear-- which could have lifelong, detrimental effects. That is unacceptable.”
"Many districts are struggling with financial issues, working diligently to get their schools open in the medium to long-term,” said Representative Justin Price. “We need to offer immediate options for RIDE and the families of school children to set a thoughtful statewide course of action. I think this emergency plan will enable families to ensure their children receive the best education possible during this extraordinary time."
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