S.C. announces $14 million plan to expand early childhood education

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has announced the funding of several early childhood education and parenting support initiatives as part of South Carolina’s response to the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s education system. The funding comes from the South Carolina Department of Education’s $211 million set aside from the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. “With less than 40 percent of kindergartners demonstrating readiness pre-pandemic and the promising results of state funded early childhood education programs and pilots, we know the need and benefits of expanding our current offerings,” said Spearman. “COVID-19 has intensified the need to support early learners and their families so that they are ready to learn on day one of kindergarten. This funding will not only support the academic outcomes of our youngest learners, but also provide mental and physical health and wellbeing for them and their families that is paramount to successful outcomes in education and life. An effective early childhood program builds the foundation for school success and lifelong learning.” The South Carolina Department of Education will provide $14.7 million in funding over the next three years to carry out several early childhood initiatives in partnership with South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness. The initiatives, which range from expanding pre-kindergarten education and home visiting programs to supporting safety, health awareness and services for at-risk families, will allow thousands of children, parents, and caregivers to have access to robust resources and supports that are proven to improve education and health outcomes for students, families, and their communities. “We are incredibly grateful for Superintendent Spearman’s vision to apply these federal resources to programs and services for South Carolina’s youngest children, an investment that will generate an exponential return,” said Georgia Mjartan, Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps. “Children and families whose lives have been upended by COVID-19 will be able to participate in proven programs. Compared to their peers, children enrolled in First Steps programs are 74 percent more likely to enter kindergarten ready to succeed.” Specifically, the funding will go to expand the following programs and initiatives: SCHOOL TRANSITIONS: When children and their families are supported in their transitions between early childhood settings and from early childhood into kindergarten, they experience less stress and are more likely to succeed. Those programs are advantageous in supporting populations at higher risk for transition challenges such as English language learners and children with disabilities. Countdown to Kindergarten and Countdown to 4K support strong school transitions by connecting rising three year olds and rising kindergartners, their families, and their teachers in a series of one-on-one visits during the summer. Teachers complete six visits with each child’s family, five in the family’s home and a final visit in the early childhood or kindergarten classroom. Working together, teachers and families establish strong connections during the summer that facilitate easier classroom learning throughout the year. Funding will serve an additional 5,550 students over three years. AFTERSCHOOL AND SUMMER LANGUAGE, LITERACY PROGRAMS: First Steps providers will receive supplemental funding to serve an additional 3,000 preschool aged children over the summer and through after school programs over the next three years. EVIDENCE-BASED PARENTING PROGRAMS: Parents are a child’s first teacher and the additional stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic can significantly impact their ability to provide their children with the supports needed for health development and school readiness. Evidence-based parenting programs that utilize home visiting models have proven successful in South Carolina and beyond. A 2019 study by the University of South Carolina found that children who received these services administered by First Steps were 74 percent more likely to demonstrate readiness on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and 34 percent less likely to be chronically absent in kindergarten. Funding will expand proven programs including Parents as Teachers, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, and Save the Children’s Early Steps in additional counties and school districts in South Carolina. EARLY CHILDHOOD HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT: The SCDE and First Steps partnership will support two national, evidence-based health education programs that target at-risk communities and mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 on young children and their families by facilitating positive, regular interactions between families and their pediatricians. HealthySteps, a program focused on individuals aged birth to 3, is an evidence-based, team-based pediatric primary care program that promotes the health, well-being and school readiness of babies and toddlers, with an emphasis on families living in low-income communities. Founded in 2005, PASOs supports the Latino community by providing education on family health, early childhood, and positive parenting skills. PASOs’ partnerships with health care and social service providers help them to provide more effective services. Funding will help to expand the Healthy Steps and PASOs sites in South Carolina allowing them to be able to serve more young learners and their entire families. In addition to funding these programs and initiatives, the SCDE will supply funds to be used by First Steps to ensure the programs are able to recruit and retain qualified individuals.

Author: Rachel Howell

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