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Politics: Democrats praise all-day pre-K

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Waccamaw Neck Democrats donated school supplies and expressed their support for early childhood education last week.

Members brought glue sticks, erasers, pencils, markers, paper, composition books, folders, pencil pouches, notebooks and other supplies to their monthly meeting at the Waccamaw Regional Recreation Center at Parkersville Park. Members of the non-partisan progressive group Drinking Liberally also contributed supplies, which were divided between Waccamaw Elementary School and McDonald Elementary in Georgetown. Each of those schools has state supported pre-kindergarten classes.

“Education is at the top of our list,” said Susan Smith, the Waccamaw Neck club’s coordinator and a member of the South Carolina Democratic Women’s Council. “We want to protect public education. We are in a street fight in South Carolina: us against them.”

Jim Watkins said S.C. Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, a Republican, opposed the expansion of public pre-kindergarten classes. “Folks who support early childhood education are lined up to run for governor and superintendent of education,” Watkins said.

Without better early childhood education, children coming from poverty will not have equal opportunities, Watkins said. “Folks began to look at the necessity of leveling the playing field years ago,” he said. “In 1984, South Carolina was one of the first states to provide public half-day kindergarten under Gov. Dick Riley. In the intervening years, something slowed down. That brings us to 2013, where the cycle is moving back.”

Watkins said expansion of pre-kindegrarten is a primary part of President Obama’s domestic agenda. He read a letter of support written to the president for improved prenatal care and expanded early childhood education and asked party members to guess who wrote it. None could. It came from 300 corporate CEO’s.

“Those folks see the need for a qualified workforce,” Watkins said.

State Sen. Vince Sheheen, a Democrat from Camden who will likely challenge Republican Gov. Nikki Haley again in 2014, has been working across party lines to get more funding for pre-kindergarten, Watkins said. Georgetown County has gotten close to $1 million for 17 all-day classes countywide, he said.

The money was included in the state budget this year to expand pre-K programs for students from low-income families.

A poll conducted this month for the non-partisan Institute for Child Success shows 65 percent of the state’s voters support the expansion. Over half don’t believe students are prepared for school when they enter kindergarten or believe South Carolina supports early-childhood education or health programs at the appropriate level.

“Pre-K,” Watkins said, “leads to less special ed, dependence on welfare, health costs, less incarceration and greater ability in math and reading, higher graduation rates, employment and compensation. For every dollar spent on pre-K in the U.S. the return is between $2.50 and $16, studies say. Looking at it from a human, religional or economic standpoint, it’s a no-brainer.”

The Waccamaw Democrats meet on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the rec center.

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