Republican leaders in South Carolina are reportedly among a group of national conservatives who could question or turn down federal funding to expand universal pre-kindergarten, according to a report Wednesday in The Washington Post.
A plan recently OK’d by the U.S. House of Representatives and awaiting approval by the Senate would send $110 billion to states over six years to offer free pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds nationwide.
And while similar proposals have garnered support from both Republicans and Democrats in the past, some GOP lawmakers across the country are reportedly ready to say, “No, thanks,” if the funding comes from the Biden-backed bill.
“Republican lawmakers in Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina and Minnesota told The Post that they will reject or are troubled by aspects of Biden’s proposed pre-K expansion,” the D.C. paper reported.
Though the proposal would send federal dollars to pay for some of the costs, legislatures would have to appropriate funds to cover the rest.
State Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman, told the City Paper on Thursday there hasn’t been much talk of the federal dollars for pre-K in the Palmetto State yet, but that leaders would have to see how the proposal impacts the bottom line, if passed.
“That’s the thing about the federal money coming in: It’s good for a one-time push,” she said. “But when you start looking at something that is recurring, that means that the state has to be in a position to pick it up when the time happens.”
In S.C., universal public 5-year-old kindergarten has been the standard for a generation, but expanded prekindergarten programs have taken root in the past year.
Ahead of spats over COVID-19 precautions this fall, state Superintendent Molly Spearman and Gov. Henry McMaster in July managed to muster support for state-funded pre-K expansion, having $37 million appropriated in this year’s budget. The public-private First Steps program serves as the distribution point for those public dollars. A statement after the 2021 appropriation couched the initiative as a way to get South Carolina parents back to work amidst coronavirus-prompted workforce shortages and childcare facility closures.
“South Carolina is very invested in early childhood,” said Allison, who chairs the House education committee. “So, I think we would have to look at this and see exactly what it can mean to the state and to families and children.”
For her part, a spokesman for Spearman said it was too early to say whether she was ready to turn down the funds.
“Before making any determination, we would need to know South Carolina’s cost share and what requirements come attached to the federal funding,” state Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown told the City Paper in an email. “Without knowing the amount the state would be on the hook to pay for and how this federal initiative may or may not mesh with our existing state funded Pre-K programs, it is impossible to say whether or not this is something Superintendent Spearman and the state would be able to support.”
Brown also indicated uncertainty about the reliance on short-term federal dollars, something that’s been an issue for congressional Democrats.
“There is also a concern with the sustainability of the federal funding,” he said. “It would be a mistake to implement a new program only to have to scale it back after a short amount of time.”
McMaster’s office did not respond to a request for comment.