South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness and its local partnerships in Charleston and Spartanburg have been awarded a total of $30.5 million in federal Early Head Start grants to expand early learning services for some of the state’s neediest infants and toddlers.
Combined, First Steps’ grants mark the 8th largest award presented Wednesday morning by President Obama at the White House Summit on Early Learning. South Carolina was competing with other states for a share of $500 million in Early Head Start grants. With these awards, First Steps at the state and local levels will be able to serve an additional 535 low-income infants and toddlers annually for the next five years.
“We are delighted to bring greater investment to young children in our underserved communities,” said Columbia attorney Ken Wingate, Chairman of the SC First Steps to School Readiness Board of Trustees. “The first three years are critical to early brain development and ultimately to the school readiness of South Carolina’s children.”
Created by the federal government in 1994, Early Head Start is designed to provide comprehensive child development and family support services to low-income infants and toddlers and their families. The recent grant competition was designed to expand the model within private and community-based preschool settings across the nation.
South Carolina First Steps received a state-level award of $18.5 million over five years to provide extended services in the following counties:
“Over fifteen years First Steps has worked together at state and local levels to fill gaps for our state’s neediest families,” said Dr. Daniel Blue, Jr., Director of Dillon County First Steps, a grant partner. “We look forward to expanding service to low-income infants and toddlers using these new federal funds.”
First Steps’ Charleston County partner received an award of $6.5 million, while its Spartanburg County partner was awarded $5.5 million over that same five year period.
“Research shows that high quality early childhood education can make a lasting difference in a child’s school and life success,” said SC First Steps Executive Director Susan DeVenny. “Our goal at First Steps is to increase access to quality preschool programs for children across South Carolina, especially during the earliest years when it matters most, so they are ready for success when they enter the classroom.. These grants will benefit hundreds of low-income children and families by increasing access to comprehensive, quality early childhood programs in some of South Carolina’s most rural communities.”
SC First Steps currently serves more than 1,900 low-income four-year-olds through a network of 150 private preschool providers statewide. Enrollment in First Steps’ Early Head Start program is anticipated in early 2015.