It is disappointing that Gov. Nikki Haley chose to veto H.3428, the reauthorization of South Carolina First Steps. I understand her concerns and believe she makes some valid points about needed changes.
However, this legislation is far more than a reauthorization. It enacts significant reforms based on lessons learned in our first 15 years and moves to immediately begin making the changes recommended in the Legislative Audit Council's June 2013 report. I respectfully disagree with holding the program hostage and delaying the start of this process.
Since First Steps was created in 1999, much progress has been made in helping our community understand how we can improve educational outcomes for school children by focusing on their early care, both at home and in child care environments.
I applaud the governor's commitment to improving education in our state, and she has an opportunity to lead when it comes to early care and education. Gov. Haley is actually the chairwoman of the First Steps Board of Trustees and has appointment powers for eight seats on the board. While she has not been able to attend First Steps board meetings thus far and has not filled those board seats, I hope she will take a more active interest so that we may reform S.C. First Steps to meet her expectations. The buck stops with her and the board.
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Richland County First Steps is focused on defining, assessing and improving school readiness. With 30,000 plus children under the age of 6, a state allocation of $791,000 doesn't come close to meeting the needs of Richland County's children. We wouldn't be able to provide the services we do were it not for the additional federal and private resources we have been able to secure. Many of the other 45 counties do not have such resources.
More funding is only a partial answer. A bipartisan, long-term commitment to continue the quest for improved educational outcomes is in everybody’s best interest. Legislators in both the Senate and House showed that commitment by their almost unanimous support for the reauthorization. I hope they will reaffirm their support of young children in South Carolina and override Gov. Haley’s veto.
CEO, Richland County