Governor Dan McKee Education Address at the Boy & Girls Club, Newport

 Governor Dan McKee Education Address at the Boy & Girls Club, Newport
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April 12, 2023

Good morning and thank you for being here.
As many of you know, the Boys & Girls Club is a special place for me – my dad and his friends founded the club in our hometown of Cumberland, and I spent many years there as a member and later as president – and of course – coaching kids in basketball.
So I think it’s very appropriate that we are here today to talk about a topic that’s important to Rhode Islanders in all 39 cities towns – and one that I’ve been involved in for my entire career – improving education.
Exactly 100 days ago today, I was sworn in for my first full term as Governor. In my remarks that day, I laid out one of our Administration’s top goals:
That by the end of the decade, we will improve student learning outcomes to reach Massachusetts levels.
Today, we’re here to introduce a concept of change to help get us there.
This will require us to make a shift – from thinking that learning happens only during a 180-day school year, to embracing a 365-day, year-round learning strategy. And municipal leaders will be driving this strategy.
For the past several months, we’ve been introducing this concept of change to people across the state.
And we’re calling it “Learn 365 RI.”
We’ve brought together state government leaders like our commissioners of elementary and secondary education; municipal leaders; superintendents; union representatives; college and university presidents; nonprofit leaders; the business community; the General Assembly and parents, students and families across the state.
And some of those leaders are here today. I want to thank each and every one of you for giving your time and sharing your experience.
These are different people who have different ideas when it comes to education – but there’s a few core things we can all agree on: kids want to learn, parents want their kids to achieve, and we all want Rhode Island to be best in class when it comes to education.
Coming out of the pandemic has been incredibly challenging for all of us.
Whether it’s the kids in kindergarten who are showing up to school with fewer social and academic skills; or the middle schoolers showing higher signs of anxiety and depression; or high school students who are struggling to make it to graduation.
We know that it will take about 3 to 5 years to recover from the impact of the pandemic when it comes to education. We also know that schools can’t shoulder the entire weight of getting us back on track and beyond. We need reinforcements – statewide and communitywide.
Before I walk through our “Learn 365 RI” strategy, let me tell you how we’re going to measure our progress.
When it comes to the metrics, I believe in keeping it simple, straightforward and measurable.
Together, with Commissioners Infante-Green and Gilkey we identified three areas where Rhode Island lags behind Massachusetts by about 10 points: RICAS math and English Language Arts scores, student attendance, and FAFSA completion.
We’ve known this for years. The time for talk is over. We must take action.
And I believe that every Rhode Islander has a role to play in our “Learn 365 RI” strategy.
But improving these measures will not happen overnight. This is not instant oatmeal. It will take time, patience and a focused effort involving the entire community rallying behind of our municipal leaders.
Our teachers play a critical role in our children’s learning — and it’s no exaggeration that they are heroes. But the days of putting the entire weight of this effort on their backs is over.
Commissioner Infante-Green will speak more about the work that needs to be done within our schools to help us improve on our 3 key metrics during her annual State of Education address.
But for today, I’ll point to a few key moves we’ve made that I firmly believe will help all Rhode Island students achieve. We need to stay the course in these areas.
We started two years ago by prioritizing teachers in Rhode Island’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout – sending a strong signal that getting our kids fully back in the classroom as soon as possible was mission critical.
We enacted revised Secondary Education Regulations – including our new graduation requirements – that show a bold vision for what we expect our graduates to be able to accomplish.
We launched statewide tutoring initiatives; offered high school students the opportunity to study at the college level through AP and dual enrollment programs; and we adopted a new framework for ensuring our multilingual learners are successful.
We made significant investments in Pre-k and higher education including making Rhode Island Promise permanent at CCRI, tens of millions of dollars to be invested on the Bay Campus at URI and just last week we announced our proposal for a Cybersecurity School at RIC.
Additionally – we’re ensuring students are in 21st century learning environments. Statewide, at least 22 major new school projects are currently under design or construction. I want to thank the leadership at the local level – our school committees and city and town councils – for helping us make this happen. Our students deserve this progress, and we’re using the $300 million that was approved last year by the voters and supplemented in our budget to deliver for them.
The budget I’ve submitted to the General Assembly fully funds our multilingual learners and high-cost special education to address the needs of these students.
It also makes targeted modifications to the funding formula to improve outcomes and support students with greater needs.
Specifically, the budget I proposed invests an additional $57 million in K-12 education. That’s in addition to another $4 million in our budget to further support out of school learning opportunities.
These in-school strategies are important, but our children are coming from behind.
And if we are going to catch up with our neighboring states, we know there needs to be additional learning time outside of the school day. The reality is that children actually spend most of their awake hours outside of school. And it’s that out-of-school time that I want to focus on today.
Here’s where that concept of change comes in.
A 2019 report on the State of Out of School Time Learning Programs laid it out like this – it reads: “When youth regularly attend high quality out of school time programs, they are able to narrow gaps in math achievement, improve their academic and behavior outcomes, and have fewer school absences.”
Our out-of-school learning time can be fun, engaging, and inspiring while also supporting academic skill development in our three main areas: RICAS, FAFSA completion, and student attendance.
That alignment is critical.
With that in mind, as part of the “Learn 365 RI” strategy, I am announcing a statewide goal to add at least 1 million hours of out-of-school learning time per year.
Now, I know when you first hear this – 1 million additional hours of learning might sound unattainable.
In fact, I was in a school a few weeks ago and when I said that to students, they thought I was proposing a 365-day school year – I saw some looks of panic in that audience.
But that’s not what we’re proposing. And when the students started to hear what we meant by 1 million additional hours of learning – they got it.
Think about it – if just 20,000 Rhode Island students add about an hour per week of out of school learning, that right there equals one million hours.
Successfully meeting this threshold will drive increases in achievement so that by the end of the decade we will deliver best in class statewide academic achievement results.
And we know it can happen because in many cases, we have the puzzle pieces already – we just need to be strategic about how we put them together.
We’re here in Newport for a reason. Newport is going to be our model for success.
A few months ago, we started bringing people together in Newport under the Mayor’s leadership. We met with the Newport Superintendent, leaders from Salve Regina, CCRI and Bank Newport – and they shared a mutual commitment to working with community organizations to expand learning opportunities.
Here’s a concrete example of what’s already come out of that engagement:
This is school vacation week. And this week, right here at the Boys & Girls Club, students are participating in a math booster camp. This camp is being led by teachers from the Newport School District – this pairing ensures continuity between what happens in the classroom and what is happening in our out of school programs. With the focus being on academic achievement.
And this is happening in other places across our state as well.
Over this past February break, Central Falls High School ran an intensive workshop for AP biology students.
Right now in Woonsocket, several dozen 4th and 5th graders are studying math each day as a part of their week-long camp at the Boys and Girls Club of Northern Rhode Island.
In Providence nearly 3,000 students have opted to spend their April break engaging in meaningful learning.
These are great models of local community collaboration to extend learning from the traditional school day to year-round learning.
Now, I’m sure everyone in this room can agree with this concept in theory, but you’re probably asking yourself: How are we going to achieve this? Who’s going to be responsible for the progress and the outcomes?
A key component of our strategy to increase out-of-school learning time is to achieve a high-level commitment from mayors, town administrators, council presidents, and town managers across the state. They are the ones who are uniquely positioned to take this effort communitywide.
As a Mayor, I saw it firsthand in my own town of Cumberland where we opened the state’s first Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth & Learning that helped kids in math, reading, STEM, leadership, SAT prep, and so much more.
That’s why today I’m announcing the launch of the Learn 365 RI Municipal Compact and I’m asking every municipal leader across our state to sign onto it.
Mayors represent all students in their communities and our “Learn 365 RI” approach will help all students reach their potential regardless of where they attend school.
Just yesterday, I met with dozens of municipal leaders across Rhode Island and I’m encouraged to already have so many of these leaders ready to join this effort. My back of the envelope math estimates that as of today, over 650,000 Rhode Islanders are represented by the mayors and municipal leaders who have already indicated support.
The compact commits a municipality to create learning opportunities that support and enhance efforts both inside and outside of the traditional school settings to improve student outcomes. It gives a menu of actions that a municipal leader can take.
Before we leave here today, Mayor Xay will be the first municipal leader to sign the Learn 365 RI Municipal Compact. As the Mayor has said to me many times over the last few months – he’s all in! Mayor, thank you for that.
And as part of this engagement effort, I’ve asked our team at RIDE and my office to meet with every municipal leader who signs the compact to lay out where their community stands on the three key measures we’re focused on: RICAS scores, absentee rates, and FAFSA completion.
A new non-profit called Always Learning Rhode Island is being formed to work directly with municipal leaders to help them be successful in this effort. More news to come in the weeks ahead.
To help municipal leaders jumpstart this work in their communities, I am allocating $4 million in GEER funding to support out-of-school learning. This is federal funding given directly to governors to help students and families recover from the impact of COVID-19 on education.
These dollars will help cities and towns coordinate, expand or enrich out-of-school learning opportunities remaining laser focused on improving student outcomes.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be formally releasing the “Learn 365 RI” RFP to make this funding available to any Rhode Island city or town that signs the Compact. So I look forward to being in many other communities over the next several weeks signing these compacts and embracing this concept of change together.
This $4 million is only just the start. To compliment these dollars, we also have $47 million in the queue that the General Assembly approved in my budget last year.
Once approved by the federal government, these funds will be used to help cities and towns build out community centers to support out of school learning activity in their city or town.
I’ve said a lot today, but there’s one thing I want to repeat: our kids want to learn, parents want their kids to achieve, and we all want Rhode Island to be best in class when it comes to education.
We want to get all our children over the finish line without slowing anyone down – and we want to take down hurdles without putting up any new hurdles for our students.
Just as JFK believed our nation could make it to the moon before the end of the 1960s – I believe that we reach our education destination before the end of the 2020s.
I believe we should be smart about how we use our time and funding, but I believe we must invest what is necessary to get the job done.
The road to success may not always be a smooth one but it will happen. And it will happen before the end of the decade.
So, Rhode Island – it’s time for us to make a shift – from thinking that learning happens only during a 180-day school year to embracing the “Learn 365 RI” strategy.
This shift is going to require all hands on deck. Everyone working together, as one team – just like the very best teams do here on the basketball court.
This is our shot, Rhode Island. Let’s take it and let’s make it.

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