Bill to Expand 4-Year-Old Kindergarten in SC Advances - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

Bill to Expand 4-Year-Old Kindergarten in SC Advances

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COLUMBIA, S.C. -

A bill that would expand 4-year-old kindergarten to all at-risk children in South Carolina advanced at the Statehouse Wednesday, after a state Senate education subcommittee passed it by a vote of 6 to 1.

"Right now, there is only a partial 4K program in specific counties that came from a lawsuit that was filed by districts in South Carolina," says Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, sponsor of the bill. "And the idea here is it's time to transform early childhood education in South Carolina."

North Carolina and Georgia already have statewide 4K programs.

How much would the expansion cost taxpayers? "It would cost less than $100 million and, to put that in perspective, South Carolina had almost a billion dollars of increased, surplus revenue last year, so you don't have to raise taxes to do it," Sen. Sheheen says. "You have to just say early childhood education is a priority, and it should be a priority."

But state education superintendent Dr. Mick Zais is against the plan. His spokesman Jay W. Ragley told senators on the education subcommittee, "He does not support mandatory universal 4K. Now this bill isn't mandatory, but it is moving towards universal. And the reason he doesn't support mandatory universal 4K is the research is mixed, at best, on the results of a 4-year-old program. Two recent federal studies, of what many consider to be the gold standard in early childhood education is the Head Start program, have shown that, by third grade, the effects of a 4-year-old intervention wash out."

The state's own study (http://www.eoc.sc.gov/In%20the%20News/At-A-Glance/2013/CDEPP%20Report%20AtaGlance.042013.FINAL.pdf), by the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, of SC's 4-year-old kindergarten pilot program showed mixed results. Looking at state PASS test scores, students who were in the 4K program had lower achievement levels than those who did not have 4K. But when comparing the 4K students to other students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch but did not have 4K, the 4K students had higher achievement levels.

Sen. Sheheen says, "The overwhelming amount of studies throughout the country, and the evidence in Georgia and in North Carolina, show that it helps long-term if we invest in early childhood education."

According to the Center for Public Education (http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Pre-kindergarten/Pre-Kindergarten/Pre-kindergarten-What-the-research-shows.html),  in Georgia, 82 percent of former participants in the state's pre-kindergarten program had higher third grade readiness than students who did not have pre-K. It also cites South Carolina's smaller pre-K program. Before the program, 60 percent of children tested as being ready for first grade. By 1998, that figure had risen to 81 percent.

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