SC First Steps awards $17.6M in grants to support children’s healthy development and school readiness

SC First Steps awards $17.6M in grants to support children’s healthy development and school readiness

Check out the article on SCNOW.COM!

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina First Steps has awarded its largest funding amount in more than 15 years: $17,664,476 in grants to its network of 46 local First Steps partnerships.

A combination of state, federal and private dollars, the funds will directly impact more than 30,000 children and will expand parenting programs, increase the quality of child care, support positive transitions between early childhood and elementary school and improve the health of South Carolina’s youngest citizens.

Approximately 10% of the funding is going to six Pee Dee counties. Combined, First Steps partners in Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties are getting $1,649,580, an average of $274,930 per county.

The breakdown:

  • $437,610 to Florence County.
  • $291,500 to Dillon County.
  • $255,250 to Marion County.
  • $223,600 to Williamsburg County.
  • $223,020 to Darlington County.
  • $218,600 to Marlboro County.

The state’s largest funder of early childhood programs in every county, South Carolina First Steps was able to award both $14,435,228 in state funding to all 46 local First Steps partnerships, plus $3,229,248 in federal, state, and private funds in targeted and competitive grant funding to help 44 counties expand and add new programs that successfully prepare children for school.

“Investing public dollars in early childhood provides the greatest rate of return,” said Georgia Mjartan, the executive director of South Carolina First Steps. “For every dollar spent, we can track between $4 and $16 in societal benefits.

“The $17.6 million we are investing today will produce an economic impact of as much as $282 million for South Carolina. We are incredibly grateful to South Carolina’s legislature and Governor Henry McMaster for their vision for a healthy, thriving future for all children.”

South Carolina First Steps supports and funds a network of 46 county-level nonprofits. Each “local partnership” has a board made up of community leaders who employ an executive director and local staff. The partnerships run programs for families directly or in partnership with other local entities including school districts, child care centers, libraries and museums. The grants awarded by South Carolina First Steps are matched with local philanthropic dollars and in-kind support, resulting in an even greater impact.

Children who participate in First Steps programs are 74% more likely to score at the highest level on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (given to all entering kindergartners) and are 34% less likely to be chronically absent from school. National and state-level research provides evidence that these programs work to ensure children are safe, healthy, and ready for school.

Highlights of this historic investment:

Funding is expected to nearly double the number of children and families able to be served in the coming program year, compared to the current year.

50% more children will be enrolled in “high-intensity” programs, where families engage with the program on a regular, sustained basis, resulting in the greatest impact on children’s long-term success.

1,700 rising kindergartners across 28 counties will have a better start to their first year in school thanks to expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten, a program where the child’s future kindergarten teacher visits them and their family at home and at school six times over the summer.

38 AmeriCorps members will be recruited, trained and deployed across 18 counties to provide family and community outreach and support and parent education using the HIPPY model (Home Instruction Program for Parents of Preschool Youngsters).

First Steps is recruiting applicants across the state for a 10-month term of AmeriCorps service, beginning Sept. 3. An online application is available at

For the state fiscal year that began July 1, the South Carolina General Assembly allocated $14.4 million in Education Improvement Act funding for local First Steps partnerships. The First Steps AmeriCorps program is funded by a three-year grant from the United Way Association of South Carolina. Additional funding for local First Steps partnerships comes from the Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5), a federal grant awarded to the South Carolina Department of Social Services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, and from private and philanthropic grants and contributions. South Carolina First Steps is a primary partner for the PDG B-5 grant and provides 100% of the required state matching funds.

Additional funding for the expansion of Countdown to Kindergarten 2021 was made possible by supplemental Education Improvement Act (EIA) funding from the South Carolina Department of Education.