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S.C. Ruling on Funding May Open Way for More Early Education, Advocates Say

Early-childhood education advocates in South Carolina see an opportunity to expand services now that a 21-year-old legal battle was decided by the state supreme court on Nov. 12 in favor of better funding for poor and rural regions of the state.

Several organizations focused on services for infants, toddlers, and preschool-age students came together over the summer to create a proposal for improving early-childhood services in South Carolina. The coalition plans to bring the proposal before the state legislature soon, according to an AP story by Susanne M. Schafer.

The Children's Trust, the United Way, the Institute for Child Success and more than two dozen other organizations contributed to the 2015 Early Childhood Common Agenda, as they are calling the proposal. It would include nearly doubling the state's capacity to send nurses and social workers on home visits to new mothers, awarding a tax credit to low- and moderate-wage workers to cover child-care costs, and more rigorous supervision of child-care providers.

South Carolina currently spends $35.7 million on early education and provides preschool services to 40 percent of its 4-year-olds. A previous ruling by a lower court in the Abbeville County School District v. South Carolina case resulted in an upswing in this spending in 2006, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

The new state supreme court mandate that the state improve its services in poor and rural regions could give early-childhood education advocates the opening they need to gain legislative support for their proposal to increase services once again. Here's how my colleague Denisa R. Superville explained the outcome of the case on the District Dossier blog:

In a 3-2 ruling, the state high court upheld an earlier Circuit Court decision that said South Carolina officials failed to live up to their constitutional obligation to adequately fund poor and rural schools. The state's failure to address the "effects of pervasive poverty on students within the plaintiffs' school districts prevented those students from receiving the required opportunity," the ruling said. ...

The ruling directed both sides to come up with a solution and compelled both to design a plan that addresses the constitutional violation.

South Carolina ranks 45th in the nation for the well-being of its children according to the July Kids' Count Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Fifty-seven percent of children in the state do not attend preschool.

The state's current state preschool programs, which provides a half- or full-day of care to income-qualified students depending on the program, received solid marks in the latest evaluation by National Institute for Early Education Research. Both programs met more than half of the institute's 10 quality benchmarks, like adequate teacher training and low student to staff ratios.

South Carolina is also one of the 35 states that have applied for a federal Preschool Development Grant.

For more on the history of the South Carolina court battle, see the rest of Superville's post.

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