COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) — State education leaders said they are investing nearly $15 million in expanding early childhood programs across South Carolina.

They made the announcement at the South Carolina Department of Education Wednesday afternoon. State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman was joined by South Carolina First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjarten.

According to Superintendent Spearman, they’ll be using $14.7 million over the next three years to fund this expansion of SC First Steps programs. The money is coming from the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The state Department of Education is receiving $211 million in total from the fund.

“It allows us to move the needle using proven programs with populations we were not able to reach, simply because the resources weren’t there,” Mjarten said.

Mjarten told reporters on Wednesday the money will be used to expand transition programs, after-school and summer pre-school programs, parent engagement programs and early childhood health programs.

She said it addresses the needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic for young South Carolinians and their families. Mjarten said they’ll reach an additional 25,000 students over three years through this funding.

Superintendent Spearman said their goal is to make sure more students heading into kindergarten are ready. A study from last school year, showed only 27% of students heading into kindergarten in South Carolina displayed readiness.

She said, “We know we’re making the right investment. We will be monitoring and make sure we have the information to ensure there are results.”

Spearman went on to say, “We want our children in South Carolina to be better prepared, with the goal that by the third grade – they’re all reading on grade level.”

According to the Department of Education, they’ll also be providing funding so SC First Steps can recruit and retain qualified people to help with the expansion of the programs. Mjarten said they’ll be able to take on new families starting Sept. 1.