How Henry McMaster can make SC a great place for kids (The State)

By, JAMIE MOON, Guest Columnist

COLUMBIA, SC 

As the new leader of our state, Gov. Henry McMaster can continue our progress on early childhood issues — which know no political boundaries but benefit all South Carolinians.

Under former Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina became a national innovator for young children and their families.

The state reached its highest ranking yet for children’s well-being: 41st in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 KIDS COUNT survey. This isn’t high enough, but it reflects our state’s increased access to high-quality early education, fewer low-birthweight infants and fewer children without health insurance.

Former Gov. Haley’s administration worked with legislators and children’s advocates to expand a proven program that offers in-home nurse visits for first-time mothers, especially those in needy communities. Lawmakers also made important strides in expanding pre-K classes for more of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds, especially in low-income communities.

But there’s plenty more to do.

There’s growing consensus among children’s advocates in South Carolina that we should set a statewide goal of becoming the best place in the nation to raise a child. This may seem lofty, but our state has a number of programs that can help to make it happen.

How can the new governor and state lawmakers make a greater difference for many families, while saving taxpayer money and improving economic prospects? Here are five ideas:

  • Enact a comprehensive children’s agenda. The Children’s Trust of South Carolina, the state’s United Way Association, the Institute for Child Success and our partner organizations in the state have developed the 2017 South Carolina Early Childhood Common Agenda, which recommends child-friendly polices from community development to new earned-income tax credits.
  • Boost prenatal and family health. Gov. Haley’s administration used $30 million in pay-for-success public-private financing to expand the successful nurse-family partnership home visiting program. Home visiting and early health are part of the our common agenda. Gov. McMaster can pursue additional projects using this style of funding, which expands up-front resources beyond what the state can do on its own.
  • Improve child care. Spartanburg is exploring pay-for-success financing to provide child-care workers with more training and education, giving them the chance to earn higher salaries. The state should do more to guarantee high-quality child care across the state, and this model could work. Child care is part of the common agenda and is one of President Donald Trump’s stated priorities.
  • Strengthen pre-K. Lawmakers have increased funding on pre-K classes by about $75 million in the past three years. Yet a majority of the state’s children still aren’t enrolled in pre-K. And program quality is sometimes lacking. The state Education Oversight Committee is working on these issues, and we urge Gov. McMaster to expand pre-K further and to push for higher quality.
  • Make rural a priority. The state is under court order to provide equal educational opportunities for rural students. These children often face obvious inequities compared to their urban and suburban counterparts. Bolstering school funding is the right thing to do, and it also will boost the state’s economic development prospects.

A senior official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently called South Carolina and North Carolina the national hub of innovation for improving life for young children and their families. The new governor can build on our success to make the Palmetto State an even better place to raise a family and for all of us to live.

Mr. Moon is president and CEO of the Institute for Child Success, a national nonprofit research and policy organization based in Greenville; contact him at jmoon@instituteforchildsuccess.org.