Lawmakers hope for budget savings by improving school programs

Lawmakers hope for budget savings by improving school programs

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - State lawmakers have a lot on their plate for the next year: flood recovery, roads, and the Abbeville lawsuit, which states rural school districts have less resources and advantages than districts like Greenville and Charleston.

But Monday, a joint committee on the state's First Steps education program made the case that keeping the program cost-effective could help one of those issues.

First Steps and the Abbeville School district lawsuit, while aren't directly connected, overlap in their mission to improve the quality of education. Lawmakers have already pointed out the Abbeville suit will be expensive, which is one reason they're hoping to save on First Steps.

"I know you've got your legislative responsibilities you're carrying out," First Steps Chairman Ken Wingate said.

And those responsibilities cost money: fixing South Carolina roads, damaged from years of travel, and now a few days' worth of incredible flooding. Combine that with leveling the playing field for rural school districts, as dictated by the Abbeville lawsuit, a task the legislature is still grappling with.

"Abbeville is very broad, if you're talking about education in South Carolina, you can refer back to Abbeville any time you like," Horry Sen. Greg Hembree said.

That, Wingate says, is where First Steps comes in.

"It's not just about what goes on in the classroom it's about what goes on in the afternoon childcare centers," Wingate said.

First Steps covers a broad range of early childhood education programs, meaning children come to school better prepared to learn.

But the program needs to be cost effective. The committee brought forth three recommendations to save money: Keep the program as it is now, but work towards better organization; make it a cabinet agency for the governor; or put it in the Department of Education.

"Obviously, we're interested in having the most effective program that the taxpayers are paying for," Hembree said.

Those recommendations head to the General Assembly which makes the final pick.

First Steps currently operates as a nonprofit with 46 county offices implementing the programs they run.

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