Rep. Casimiro and Sen. Lawson introduce legislation to fund RI Vision Education and Services Program
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Julie A. Casimiro and Sen. Valarie J. Lawson have introduced resolutions (2023-H 6389, 2023-S 0984) to appropriate $3 million to the Rhode Island Vision Education and Services Program at Rhode Island College. The program serves and supports Rhode Island’s blind and visually-impaired students.
“When our blind and visually-impaired students were faced with a disruption in their educations two years ago, the Joint Vision Services Task Force was formed to ensure that this never happened again. The task force spent countless hours listening about and analyzing the issues that threatened these vital services to our blind and visually-impaired students and the recommendations within this resolution will make sure that these students have the skills, knowledge and tools they need to be independent and successful adults in the future,” said Representative Casimiro (D-Dist. 31, North Kingstown, Exeter).
“Students who are blind or have visual-impairments should not be forgotten and I know that the recommendations that the task force put forth to support these students and their families will have a truly beneficial impact on their lives and futures. It is our shared duty to ensure that the doors of opportunity, in school and beyond, are open to all residents, and the Sherlock Center makes that possible for our blind and visually-impaired students,” said Senator Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence).
The Rhode Island Vision Education Services Program (RIVESP) is housed at the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College. RIVESP specialists work with blind and visually impaired students in more than 26 school districts across the state. Two years ago, funding for the program came into question and the General Assembly was quick to respond by restoring funding for two years in the state budget.
In further response, the Joint Vision Services Task Force was created to find an ongoing funding source for the RIVESP at the Sherlock Center. Representative Casimiro and Senator Lawson served as co-chairs of the task force.
Over the course of meetings held in 2021 and 2022, the task force heard testimony, and reviewed presentation material, pertaining to critical issues related to vision services and the Sherlock Center including funding, staffing, governance and structure, the need for operational improvements, and the use of alternative programs by certain municipalities.
In addition to appropriating $3 million to the program, the task force recommended appointing a full-time director of the program who would have full decision-making authority; who would develop and manage the budget; and who would develop staffing policies to ensure the students receive the highest quality education. The task force also recommended establishing a board of directors who would provide oversight; identify the educational needs of students; and develop educational polices to meet student needs. Districts that provide their own services to visually impaired students are also supported in the resolution.
Reps. Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence, North Providence), Thomas E. Noret (D-Dist. 25, Coventry, West Warwick) and William W. O’Brien (D-Dist. 54, North Providence) and Sens. Frank A. Ciccone (D-Dist. 7, Providence, Johnston), Sandra Cano (D-Dist. 8, Pawtucket) and Frank Lombardo (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) also served on the task force.
Representative Casimiro’s resolution was referred to the House Finance Committee and Senator Lawson’s resolution was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.