Twenty-six percent of Rhode Island’s children live with immigrant families, according to Kids Count RI’s annual factbook on the status of Rhode Island’s 208,640 children/students under the age of 18.
Their annual breakfast at the Crowne Plaza banquet room began, fittingly, with a speech by Marie Shabani, a student at La Salle Academy who serves on the board Young Voices Rhode Island and whose family immigrated to Rhode Island from the Congo four years ago.
Shabani focused on immigration, saying that young immigrant students can contribute to the United States in positive ways.
“Young immigrants have so much to contribute, we offer nothing but good for this country,” she told the crowd of more than 500 people. “We have pride in ourselves and what we have accomplished.”
Shabani said that President Donald Trump makes her feel “unwelcomed” and she feels sorry for people who oppose immigration because they are “uneducated” and she “wants them to know they are wrong.”
“We cannot back down,” she went on to say. “This country stands for openness, caring, opportunity, and justice for all. We came to this country for these things and we will fight to have them.”
Rafael Lopez, the former commissioner of the administration on children, youth and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gave keynote remarks during the event.
“Closing opportunity gaps is of utmost importance,” Lopez said in a prior statement. “Our prosperity depends on the success of all children, and the racial and ethnic disparities that persist for Rhode Island children of color are a powerful alarm bell and call to action.”
The goal of the breakfast, which was to review Kids Count’s annual report and examine what the state is doing to help students, wasn’t political in nature, despite there being countless politicians present, from Governor Gina Raimondo to all four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation.
Raimondo touted the improvements that the state has made in regards to education, including tripling the number of public pre-kindergarten classrooms and bringing all-day kindergarten to every district in the state.
She also said that this year is the first year that the fee for SATs and PSATs has been waived and high school students are able to take it during school days, rather than on a Saturday morning. She added that every high school student is also able to take college classes for college credit for free now.
According to the factbook, children living in poverty in Rhode Island decreased by roughly 5,000 since 2012. The poverty line in 2017 is $19,749 for a family of three with two children, while the average cost of rent in Rhode Island rose in 2017 to $1,385.
In 2017, 539 families with 998 children stayed at emergency homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, or transitional housing facilities, up from 966 children last year. The number of adults in the state nutrition program decrease from last year by 3,901, while the number of children decreased by 3,925.
Raimondo said that some of the programs that have been implemented, such as the free tuition at CCRI, benefit students of low socioeconomic status the most.
Warwick’s Representative Joseph McNamara, who chairs the House Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare, told the audience that the data from Kids Count factbook is accepted without a doubt and his committee’s policies are based on those facts. Something he is focusing on in schools now, he said, is chronic absenteeism, which is at 31% of high school students currently.
“We can have the best schools, the best teachers, the best technology,” he said. “If we can’t get our students into school, we will continue to face the disparities that we’ve faced.”
Mayor Scott Avedisian and Superintendent Phil Thornton were also in attendance at the breakfast.