Thousands of children now have access to state-funded, full day, four-year-old kindergarten (4K) after South Carolina’s General Assembly allocated $37M to South Carolina First Steps and the SC Department of Education, supporting Governor Henry McMaster’s and the legislature’s vison for 4K statewide expansion. This increase in funding will allow over 4,000 children to enroll in First Steps 4K. Prior to this historic decision, 41% of SC’s at-risk four-year-olds lived in a zip code that disqualified them from full-day, state-funded 4K.
“The expansion of 4K statewide will have a transformational impact on South Carolina’s children and their parents – on the workforce of today and tomorrow. Because of this investment, parents will be able to work full-time jobs, and their children will receive the highest quality early education in a curriculum-driven program proven to get them ready for school success,” said Georgia Mjartan, Executive Director of South Carolina First Steps.
With First Steps 4K, families are in the driver’s seat. They choose the program that best meets their needs. Families can enroll their child in any of the 244 private, nonprofit, or faith-based child care centers or schools participating in the program. The majority of First Steps 4K providers offer 8-hour day and year-round instruction, including summers, which is at no cost to parents.
Increased access to the full-day, pre-k program for four-year-olds, coupled with a new program, First Steps 4K + Siblings, will ensure care and education for the whole family. When a family enrolls in a First Steps 4K classroom, all children in the home, ages 0-12, receive a full-time child care or after-school scholarship for up to 52 weeks. The expansion of 4K statewide and the additional support for siblings ensure children are ready for school success and their parents have what they need to return to work.
First Steps works to expand access to quality early care and education. When families experiencing financial hardship have access to safe, reliable child care, they are better able to enter the workforce, pursue education and job training, and boost their earnings. An increase in family income improves outcomes for both parents and children. In a recent survey of First Steps 4K parents, 48% reported that because of First Steps 4K they can work more than 15 hours per week. Children who participate in First Steps 4K are more prepared for kindergarten than their demographically similar peers. In fact, First Steps 4K successfully closed the gap in kindergarten readiness between children and poverty and the general population.
Markeisha Spencer, mom of four, and student at Greenville Technical College said, “By my daughter being accepted into First Steps 4K, a lot of weight is off my shoulders. This is a great opportunity for my family. I am sure if everyone knew about First Steps 4K, it would really help people be able to better themselves. Now, I can finish my degree, while my daughter gets to experience four-year-old kindergarten”.
Enrollment is now underway for the 2021-2022 school year. Families can apply online for First Steps 4K and First Steps 4K + Siblings at www.Free4KSC.org.