The COVID-19 pandemic represents an unprecedented challenge for each of us as individuals and for the institutions we rely on for education, health, employment, and support. The crisis also serves to highlight the vulnerabilities and inequities inherent in many systems, including the early childhood health and education systems.
Over the last couple of days, the South Carolina General Assembly completed work on two important pieces of legislation affecting our state’s youngest children. First, the Read to Succeed bill acted to expand the availability of high quality, full-day kindergarten for at-risk 4-year-olds (4k), providing access for more kids from our lowest-income communities. It also sent legislation that will continue the state’s investment in the First Steps program, while creating a study committee – including a representative from ICS – to evaluate the best way to structure that investment in future years.
The 4k expansion provides an additional $20 million for the upcoming year, over and above the $26 million expansion passed last year. The Institute for Child Success (ICS) applauds this action by our Senators and Representatives, and extends its deep thanks to all of the organizations that worked with ICS to communicate the importance of this expansion to the General Assembly. This is an incredible investment in the success of our next generation, and it is money wisely spent.
The General Assembly also took decisive action to reform and reauthorize First Steps to School Readiness. First Steps partnerships are local providers of early childhood services, including home visiting and 4-year-old kindergarten. This legislation was drafted by ICS in 2012 in an effort to improve the operations of First Steps and its programs, and to ensure the most efficient investment in our youngest children. As part of this continued investment, the legislation passed this week was amended to create the Office of First Steps Study Committee, which will make recommendations about the future structure of the program. The committee will be composed of appointees from the General Assembly and the Governor’s office, as well as a representative from the Institute for Child Success. We look forward to participating in this process to ensure the state’s investment provides the greatest possible benefit to South Carolina’s youngest kids.
ICS was also pleased by action taken in this legislative session to improve the safe operations of childcare facilities. We look forward to seeing continued action in this direction in 2015.
Update: After passage, Governor Haley vetoed the First Steps Reauthorization legislation, and the General Assembly overrode the veto, enacting the legislation.