COLUMBIA – State lawmakers and child advocates from across South Carolina gathered on Wednesday, April 25 to mark the passage of legislation extending South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness. Packed tightly around the desk of Governor Henry McMaster, the crowd looked on as the Governor placed his signature on an extension of the state’s comprehensive early childhood education initiative through the year 2025.
“As the public becomes more aware of the importance of Early Childhood Development, Newberry County First Steps plays an important role in ensuring that all students begin school ready to succeed and continue to gain support in the public and private sectors. Newberry County is one of the 46 local partnerships established in 1999. Research has shown, and continues to show, the value of what we do,” said Newberry County First Steps Executive Director Patricia H. Caldwell. “Newberry County First Steps has collaborated with the school district of Newberry County, the Hal Kohn Library, local child care centers, Newberry College, SCECA District IV and with local businesses and elected officials who are committed to our mission and work together to accomplish our goals.”
Created in 1999 under then Governor Jim Hodges, First Steps provides classroom-, home-, and community-based early childhood education and family strengthening programs across the state through a network of 46 local non-profit First Steps partnerships. The agency is also a federal Early Head Start grantee, serving 254 low-income infants and toddlers in 14 S.C. counties, and a co-administrator of the state’s four year-old prekindergarten program, serving more than 2,300 children in more than 200 private preschool classrooms.
The agency made more than 31,000 parent home visits last year to the families of more than 1,800 children.
The bill, introduced by Orangeburg County Representative Jerry Govan, attracted = bi-partisan support, passing both chambers of the General Assembly by nearly unanimous votes. After the signing, Govan lauded the move as vital to the future of the Palmetto State.
“With the governor’s signature, we mark a vital and significant step forward in South Carolina’s long-term economic competitiveness, by doubling down on our faith and investment in early childhood education as a means of securing a bright future for all children in South Carolina,” Govan noted.
First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjartan echoed Govan’s sentiment.
“If we want a prosperous South Carolina, starting early is really the key. We know from decades of research that the first years of life are critical for both learning and brain development,” Mjartan said. “It’s not exaggeration to say that a child’s experience during the years before kindergarten determine not only what he or she will know when they arrive at school, but the ways they are wired to think and learn. We take that responsibility very seriously at First Steps and are grateful for the confidence of Governor McMaster and the General Assembly.”
For more information about SC First Steps to School Readiness, go to www.scfirststeps.org.