In South Carolina, 2,003 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs, and 7,079 3-year olds and 6,330 4-year olds are enrolled in Head Start programs. South Carolina’s statewide early childhood programs serve 40 percent of 4-year olds and 4 percent of 3-year olds in the state, with a distinct focus on low-income children and families through the Half-Day Child Development Program (4K) and the Child Development Education Pilot Program. The state also funds an Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) that primarily focuses on children in kindergarten, also allowing districts to use a portion of the funds to supplement pre-K spending. In addition, First Steps to School Readiness, a separate initiative, connects and provides some financing for public and private preschool initiatives. According to a recent poll commissioned by the S.C. Institute for Child Success, 69 percent of South Carolina voters support the state’s expansion of free, full-day pre-K for 4-year-olds. Meanwhile, more than half of voters say children in the state are not prepared to enter kindergarten. The average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $6,280.
- What state leaders are saying: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen(D-Camden) vocally supports early childhood education calling it, “common sense” and is advocating for statewide pre-K as he hits the campaign trail in his 2014 bid for governor. Meanwhile, Jerry Govan, the Democrat candidate for state superintendent of education is encouraging voters to embrace early learning as a key strategy for boosting high school graduation rates in the future.
- What’s happening in the legislature: According to the Aiken Standard, the South Carolina General Assembly recently pushed to increase the number of 4-year old kindergarten slots in an effort to expand access to early learning opportunities to younger children. Meanwhile, legislation introduced in the 2013-2014 Session of the General Assembly provides statewide programs with a definition of “school readiness” as a benchmark for improving the quality of early childhood supports.
- Funding increases: In the 2013-2014 legislation session, a bill that that would expand access to full-day pre-K classes for four-year olds advanced all the way to the full State Senate Education Committee. The proposal would nearly double the state’s investment in a program that currently benefits approximately 4,700 children in three dozen districts.