Education-First Vision for Rhode Island: A Historic $1 Billion Investment in Our Public Schools

Para leer el plan en Español, haga clic aquí

A message from Helena: 


The number one thing we can do to set Rhode Island up for a strong future is to invest in our kids. That’s why I’m proposing making a historic $1 billion additional investment in our public schools.


Our public schools were struggling before COVID, but the challenges of the last two years have pushed them into a full-blown crisis. Last year, only 33% of Rhode Island public school students were meeting grade level expectations in reading. Our results in math are even more alarming–only 20% of Rhode Island students are meeting grade level standards in math.


We have a moral obligation to give our kids in every single community the resources they deserve to get an excellent public education. And we need to make big investments in the short term to help our students make up COVID learning loss.


I’m tired of hearing politicians talk about how much they value education while failing to give schools the funding and support they need. Our public school teachers are heroes. They showed up every day during this pandemic to give our students the best education possible. If it wasn’t for their creativity and resiliency, we would be in a much worse place. But we haven’t supported our teachers or our students the way they deserve. Let’s change that.


All Rhode Island parents deserve to send their kids to great public schools in their district–no matter where they live or how much they make. It is completely unacceptable that, too often, whether or not you can send your kids to great schools depends on how much money you make.


To make the changes our students deserve, we need leaders to hold themselves accountable to the people–and that’s what my plan does. Below you’ll see the costs associated with every single dollar I’m proposing we invest, and how I plan to pay for it when I’m elected as governor.


The bottom line is that improving our public schools is the #1 thing we can do to make our state more equitable and prepare our economy for a strong future. Our kids can’t wait–and neither should we.


With gratitude,




To view the full education plan with associated costs and funding sources, please click here.



​​COVID-19 has been simply devastating to Rhode Island kids and parents. Distance learning costs our kids deeply, causing them to lose out on learning opportunities, safe community spaces, and reliable meals. We can’t simply shrug our shoulders and move on. Half-measures won’t cut it either: as governor, Helena will throw every available resource at the aftermath of COVID-19 on Rhode Island kids. Each of Helena’s learning-loss initiatives will begin as three-year programs, which will be evaluated for effectiveness in real time. In the final year of her term, she will provide a report to the General Assembly detailing which programs should be made permanent.

  • Before and after-school programs: By the end of Helena’s first term as governor, every public school parent will be able to send their student to high-quality, optional before and after school programs that care for students that extend the school day from 7AM-7PM.

    • Rhode Island’s existing before and after-school programs provide remarkably high-quality before/after school and summer programs and positive outcomes to 5,000 students across our state. But these programs are just too limited in scope: if Rhode Island’s demand mirrors the national wait-list, nearly 80% of K-8 kids would take advantage of at least some programming, requiring the program to grow by a factor of fourteen.

    • Helena’s plan calls for funding 100% of the cost of expanding before and after-school programs and enrolling 50% of K-8 students and 25% of high school students by the end of her first term.

    • These programs have the potential to transform the lives of children and make parents’ lives just a little easier. Critically, they can serve as a venue to help kids catch up academically, rebuild relationships with their peers and adults, and reveal motivating passions.

  • Mental and Behavioral Health: Overwhelmingly increase the number of mental and behavioral health counselors to provide individualized support to every student in need.

    • The pandemic has caused unprecedented mental and behavioral health challenges for children at the same time that Rhode Island’s schools have underinvested in school psychologists and behavioral experts. Rhode Island is well below both the professionally recommended ratios of school psychologists to students and elementary school counselors to students. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data indicates those ratios are 1:758 and 1:392 respectively, compared to the recommended ratios of 1:500 and 1:250.

    • Helena’s plan would fully fund 100 new school psychologists for the state’s public schools, achieving the 1:500 ratio.

    • Helena’s plan would also fully fund 182 new elementary school counselors, achieving the 1:250 recommended ratio.

  • Elementary Teaching Assistants: Provide every K-3 classroom in Rhode Island with dedicated funding for a teaching assistant to support teachers and assist with one-on-one instruction and behavioral support.

    • Teachers face challenges in the classroom at a scale that was once unthinkable. Teaching was a hard job before the pandemic, but now many teachers have more and greater responsibilities than are reasonably possible: helping kids catch up academically, caring for children facing mental health crises, and managing unprecedented behavioral issues in the classroom. Teachers and students are both losing under these unsustainable conditions.

    • Helena’s plan fully funds an elementary teaching assistant for every K-3 classroom, providing temporary reinforcements to teachers and kids. Her plan will help elementary schools hire over 600 new teaching assistants.

  • Expand summer learning opportunities: Provide funding to districts so that every single student in the state can attend free summer learning programs that last at least 6 weeks.

    • Helena’s plan provides an additional $5 million in funding to new and existing summer learning programs to incentivize and develop summer learning programs that respond to COVID-19 learning loss.

  • Air quality: Require that new school construction projects meet high air quality standards in order to receive state funding.

  • High-impact, in-school tutoring: Work with local colleges and universities to provide small-group and one-on-one tutoring for all 9th grade algebra students. Begin with urban core districts and expand across the state.

    • Helena’s plan funds an hour of 1:1 tutoring and daily group tutoring sessions for 2500 children with the highest needs. The funds would mobilize both a paid and volunteer force of college students, graduate students, retired teachers, and qualified community members to help the children most acutely affected by COVID-19 learning loss.


  • Universal Pre-K: Fully fund all-day public Pre-K for every Rhode Island four-year-old, setting an ambitious 75% opt-in goal by the end of Helena’s first term.

    • The new funding would raise per-pupil pre-school spending to $12,000, making Rhode Island’s pre-schools among the best funded in the nation.

    • The program would take advantage of existing capacity and federal funding from the state’s world-class head start programs and public Pre-K classrooms by implementing a mixed delivery system, providing parents a range of options of high-quality Pre-K for their children.


  • Preschool for 3-year olds: Fund all-day public preschool for as many as 25% of Rhode Island three-year-olds.

    • As governor, Helena would launch an initiative to include three-year-olds in the state’s Pre-K services, aiming to enroll 25% of eligible three-year-olds by the end of her first term.

    • Helena will advocate intensely for a federal universal Pre-K program to make further expansion of the program fiscally feasible for the state.


  • Reading and math coaches: Every elementary school in the state should have a full-time certified reading coach and full-time certified math coach to support instruction with a particular focus on ensuring students are performing on grade level in third grade.

    • To combat COVID-19 learning loss and give Rhode Island students the high-quality education they deserve, the state will fully fund math and reading coaches. These specialists will not only provide direct support to kids in need, but support Rhode Island teachers and create school cultures of excellence in math and reading.


Rhode Island needs to make major investments in our public schools to not only make up for COVID-related learning loss, but finally give our schools the resources they need to perform like our neighbors in Massachusetts. As governor, even after federal relief dollars run out, Helena will veto any budget that does not give our public schools the resources they need to provide excellent, high-quality education to every single student.

  • Community Schools: Provide support to school districts to implement the community schools model on an opt-in basis. The community school model provides a one-stop service center for health care, family support, nutrition and physical health, and other social services on-site at school buildings.

    • Rhode Island will follow pioneering community schools models to provide 30% of the costs of community school services and programming, offering school districts the leverage they need to expand services and develop federal and private funding streams.

    • Community schools have been shown to reduce the burden on other public services, providing benefits to the whole community.


  • Investing in

    • Teachers: Grow the teaching workforce by expanding the Rhode Island Promise scholarship to cover four-year tuition in exchange for a commitment to teach in Rhode Island public schools for a minimum of four years. The expansion could fund up to 400 new teachers by the fourth year of its operation and reduce financial barriers to entering the teaching profession.

    • School Buildings: Improve student learning environments, safety, and ensure equity by renovating school buildings in accordance with the state’s Act on Climate goals. Helena endorses General Treasurer Seth Magaziner’s school construction bond to fully fund the necessary construction and renovation of school buildings.

    • Enrichment: Expand access to in-school arts and music programming. Rhode Island would follow the highly successful program in Boston Public Schools, making a generational investment in the enrichment of Rhode Island students. The funding will have a multiplier effect under this model, creating deep and lasting community partnerships with arts organizations to provide 1:1 arts instruction, extracurricular arts activity, and attract private funding. Gold-standard studies have found that arts education has “remarkable impacts on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes.” These effects are especially apparent in younger children, which is where Helena’s program would begin its efforts.


The 2010 funding formula was an overdue milestone for our state but is in desperate need of an update. Funding for high-cost special education and multilingual learners has proven inadequate as the needs of Rhode Island children have grown and changed. As a matter of basic fairness, the funding formula must account for these students; without these changes, the state is setting up these kids, their parents, and our dedicated educators to fail.

  • Fully fund High-Cost Special Education: Increase the state share of the cost of special education.

  • MLL students: Adjust the funding formula to provide more resources for districts to support their MLL students.

  • Enact temporary protection for districts experiencing enrollment declines. Create a dedicated state fund to ensure school districts are not penalized for abrupt year-over-year enrollment declines in the aftermath of COVID-19, which have disproportionately affected struggling schools.


The academic and health benefits of a nutritious breakfast for school children are overwhelming. The authors of the federal School Breakfast Program (SBP) recognized these benefits and expanded federal nutrition programs to include morning meals, making breakfast programs a financially feasible option for schools. Rhode Island requires breakfast programs to be available for all students in all public schools. Unfortunately, only 22% of students participate in school breakfast. Hungry students who can’t access these breakfast programs might not be able to get to school early enough, or fear the stigma of poverty. No matter the cause, Rhode Island must invest in rethinking our school breakfast program to make sure that kids don’t go hungry in the morning and have the nourishment they need to succeed in the classroom.

  • Universal School Breakfast: Eliminate the stigma of the breakfast program by making breakfast free to all students regardless of income.


  • Two-Way Dual Language Schools: Rhode Island can better serve its ELL students as well as enhance the education of native English speakers by increasing funding opportunities for voluntary two-way dual language programs, in which students learn academic content in a second language and practice the language with native-speaking peers.

    • Dual-language schools are an exciting and pioneering approach that can make MLL students’ language skills an asset for themselves and all Rhode Islanders, rather than a tremendous challenge to their education. Because these programs are so innovative, the biggest implementation challenge is often start-up costs.

    • Helena’s plan will provide $5 million each year for four years for district start-up costs for dual language programs. These funds complement Helena’s proposed formula aid changes, providing districts the opportunity to use the newly-implemented ELL formula aid for creative and potentially more effective approaches to helping multilingual students succeed in the classroom.

  • ESL Certification: Cover the cost of ESL certification for any Rhode Island teacher who wants it, with financial incentives for teachers to become certified in schools with high populations of MLL students.

    • Rhode Island has identified a shortage of over 200 ESL certified teachers statewide. A significant barrier to recruitment is the cost of certification, which for on-site TESOL programs in Rhode Island can range from $5,000 at Roger Williams University to over $10,000 at Rhode Island College.

    • Helena proposes appropriating $2 million, which will fully fund ESL certifications beyond the existing shortage. A portion of the appropriation will be allocated for incentives for ESL certified teachers to teach at the schools with the highest need.


  • Apprenticeships: Enhance the number and quality of youth apprenticeships in the PrepareRI Youth Apprenticeship Program (PRIYA).

  • Make CTE courses widely available: Exponentially increase the CTE program offerings at traditional public schools to ensure CTE opportunities do not rely on competitive admissions to CTE-specific schools.

    • Rhode Island’s state-of-the-art CTE centers host nearly half of all approved CTE programs in the state, limiting these programs’ availability to students at regular high schools.

    • Helena’s plan doubles the state’s contribution to federally funded CTE programming to help regular public high schools develop CTE infrastructure and expand approved programming.


  • Amend the Rhode Island state constitution. All Rhode Island students should have the fundamental right to a high-quality public education. By enshrining this principle into our constitution, we will ensure that our state leaders are held accountable for supporting public education through adequate funding.

    • In the last thirty years, courts in a dozen states with constitutional education provisions have heard cases to stop legislatures from short-changing students. A constitutional provision is anything but symbolic; it forces states to start the annual budget process with parents and kids in mind and find other funding sources for their other priorities.


  • Align CCRI programs with workforce needs: Support ongoing efforts at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) to make a two-year degree an accelerated path to success in high-demand career areas.

  • Focus state funding on financial aid: Investigate financial inefficiencies and refocus state spending on financial aid for middle-and-low income families.

  • Expand online offerings: Four-year degree programs at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and Rhode Island College (RIC) should include more primarily/fully online options to provide flexible, low-cost pathways to a four-year degree.