Statewide preschool initiative gets permanent approval as it enters 25th year in South Carolina

2023-08-10 - Scroll down for original article

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina is cementing a public-private partnership that has been expanding preschool services statewide over the past quarter century. The First Steps initiative enters its 25th year with a novel permanent status that state leaders hope will bolster school preparedness for kids ages 5 and younger. The partnership has served over 1 million children since its adoption in 1999, according to Georgia Mjartan, executive director of South Carolina First Steps, but previously required occasional reauthorization. Government officials and South Carolina First Steps participants celebrated the new stability at a ceremonial bill signing Thursday. Lawmakers unanimously approved the measure this year in a strong show of bipartisan support for the initiative, which began under the last Democrat to serve as governor. “With this legislation, we reaffirm our commitment to building a strong early childhood education system and further ensure our children enter school ready to learn — setting them and our state up for a bright future,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. Kindergarten for 4-year-olds is available four days a week at no cost in private and charter schools through South Carolina First Steps, according to Mjartan. Local partnerships also enable services like one allowing incoming students to develop relationships with kindergarten teachers before the school year starts. The initiative also has programs in pediatric and child care centers. Families can now trust that such support will be “unwavering,” Mjartan said Thursday in a statement. Frederick Fuller Jr., McCormick County First Steps board chair, applauded the governor’s affirmation of the initiative. He hopes the attention compels officials to increase education funding so youth in poor, rural areas like his community do not get left behind. “It’s very important to give them a head start in life, to make them ready to be able to go to school and be successful,” he told The Associated Press. —- James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.