South Carolina First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjartan joined Governor Henry McMaster today in Columbia as he announced a $5.0 million expansion of First Steps 4K as part of a $19.9 million education and workforce training investment in the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund*. The grants will be distributed between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the South Carolina Technical College System, the Office of First Steps, and the Department of Education. The grants will provide job training, give educational resources to foster children, and prepare children for kindergarten through an expansion of 4 year old kindergarten programs.
“Through this pandemic, South Carolina has remained a place of enormous opportunity, and we must continue to work to create these opportunities for our children and those seeking employment,” said Governor Henry McMaster. “These targeted grants will train thousands of South Carolinians for high-demand jobs and provide the groundwork for our next generation to excel in the workplace.”
Of the total $19.9 million in funding announced today, $7.0 million will be dedicated to early childhood education, particularly for expanded day or summer programs for children eligible for the full-day 4K program. $5.0 million will go directly to First Steps 4K.
Currently, children who are Medicaid-eligible or whose family income is 185 percent or less of the federal poverty level can attend a full-day 4K program at no cost to the family. Families have the option of choosing a private child care or a public school.
From today’s announcement by the Office of the Governor: “Due to the pandemic, enrollment in the full-day 4K programs is down. In private settings, enrollment is down 12%. In public schools, the decline is more dramatic at 23%.
Kindergarten readiness is one of the most important predictors of a child’s success in school. Children in poverty who attended full-day 4K programs were more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn than their peers who did not have access to quality, full-day programs.
Therefore, providing extended day and summer programs for these at-risk children who will enter kindergarten in the fall of 2021 and in the fall of 2022 is imperative to ensure that they are ready for kindergarten.”
GEER funds – provided to states through the CARES Act – are to be allocated by the governor to state agencies and other entities that have a role in educating South Carolinians that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. South Carolina’s share of GEER funds was $48.4 million, the remaining balance will be awarded prior to the May 11, 2021 deadline.