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South Carolina

Our lead ally in South Carolina, South Carolina First Steps (First Steps), is the statewide initiative for school readiness. It operates as both a state agency and a nonprofit organization, with a network of 46 subsidiary nonprofit partnerships. These local partnerships leverage state funding to fill gaps in services, connect children and families to services, convene local stakeholders around the needs of young children, and support state school readiness priorities. The First Steps state office also administers the state’s mixed delivery, full-day 4K program in private settings.

2023 State Early Childhood Policy Environment and Progress

State early childhood policy progress is dependent both on the state’s policy environment and the numerous efforts — by those listed on this page and many others — who worked both independently and collaboratively to achieve wins for young children.

Early Childhood  Landscape:

Research shows that family economic security is foundational to children’s overall wellbeing. Research also shows that widespread disparities in opportunity (especially by race) drive wide disparities in outcomes. States with policies that offer strong support to young children and their families are more likely to see 1) declining numbers of children in low-income households and 2) low racial disparity among those children. 

Young Children in Low-Income Households: Declining

Approximately 44% (227,000) of the state’s children 0-8 live in households below 200% FPL (2021). This number represents a decrease from 51% (266,000) in 2016.1

Racial Disparity Among Young Children Living in Low-Income Households: High

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and/or Native children aged 0-8 are significantly more likely to be living in households below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level than are Asian and non-Hispanic White children.2

Advocacy Landscape:

State General Fund Appropriations: Growing 

South Carolina’s fiscal 2024 budget became effective June 26 following line items vetoes from Governor Henry McMaster totaling $1.5 million. The total state budget for fiscal 2024 is $38.8 billion and the general fund portion is $11.6 billion. The net general fund revenue forecast for fiscal 2024 is $11.6 billion. The state has two constitutionally required rainy day funds: the General Reserve Fund is fully funded for fiscal 2024 at $715.2 million and the Capital Reserve Fund received a set aside of $390.1 million.3

Key Revenue Sources:

    • Personal Income Tax (0% – 7.0%)
    • State Sales Tax (6.0%)
Permanent State Funding Stream Dedicated to Early Childhood: Yes

South Carolina is the only state that provides funding for early care and education from dedicated sales tax revenue In 1984, the state instituted a 1 percent sales tax to improve the state’s education programs. A portion of these funds now go toward improving the school readiness of at-risk four-year-olds by providing free early care and education. In 2021, the state dedicated over $50 million from sales tax funds to expand pre-K services.

Political Alignment: Aligned Republican

During the 2023 session, the state’s Senate and House were both Republican controlled. The state’s Governor was also a Republican.4

Types of Ballot Measures Available:5 One

    • Legislature-Initiated Constitutional Amendments – A constitutional amendment that appears on a state’s ballot as a ballot measure because the state legislature in that state voted to put it before the voters.

Key State Policy Advocacy Organizations Include:

Early Childhood Policy Advocacy Multi-State Initiatives Include:6

2023 Policy Progress:

Following last session’s successful bill ensuring paid parental leave for state employees, this year the SC Legislature expanded their efforts and further provided paid parental leave for over 50,000 eligible teachers and other school district employees.

Highlights from the state’s early childhood policy advocacy community include:7

Building on the foundation laid in Act 149 of 2022, which provided paid parental leave for state employees, this year the Legislature extended these benefits to teachers and other school district employees. Act 17 of 2023 provides six weeks of paid leave for employees who give birth or are the primary caregiver of an adopted child and two weeks of paid leave for the other parents and for foster parents.

Through H. 3726, a new office was created to oversee the Coordinating Council for Workforce Development, which also received new members, which includes SC First Steps. The Council is responsible for developing a unified, comprehensive statewide education and workforce development plan. This plan is to include the creation of an Education and Workforce Portal and recommendations and tools to address barriers to labor participation, including affordable access to childcare and transportation.

According to the South Carolina Department of Social Services, there are about 70,000 kinship caregivers in the State. Currently, these caregivers do not receive a stipend, but with the recent passage of S.380 that will soon change. The Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (kinGAP) will allow existing caregivers to become permanent legal guardians of children and they would receive financial assistance, without the need to remain in the Foster Care System.

According to the SC Interagency Council on Homelessness’ 2022 State Report, there were 11,970 children in South Carolina schools who experienced homelessness, but the lack of a common definition in South Carolina makes it difficult to determine the number of homeless children and youth in the state. For purposes of developing an accurate statewide count, S. 342 creates statewide definitions for “unaccompanied homeless youth,” “homeless child or youth,” and “youth at risk of homelessness.”

The SC Early Childhood Advisory Council launched a common application that streamlines the process of applying for publicly funded early childhood programs. The application is available on the First Five SC website, which already allows families with young children to find information and check their eligibility for more than 40 programs. The portal has been highlighted as a national model for family-friendly service delivery. This year, the General Assembly allocated over $850,000 in recurring funds to the SC Early Childhood Advisory Council, which will help fund its initiatives, including but not limited to First Five SC.

After 24 years of existence, South Carolina First Steps has been permanently authorized by Act No. 81. The Act passed unanimously through both chambers and was signed by Governor McMaster on June 19, 2023. This is a momentous occasion for First Steps as we are the state’s only dedicated, early childhood initiative. In addition to granting permanency to First Steps, the Act also strengthens the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council by updating its membership and its required duties.

2023 Grantee Policy Agenda:

The Alliance’s lead grantee in South Carolina, South Carolina First Steps, is working to advance early childhood policies in several areas that align with the Alliance’s birth-through-eight policy framework

Early Care and Education

Child Care

Child Care Workforce

Preschool and Pre-K

Child and
Maternal Health

Early Intervention 0-3

Infant and Child Health

Maternal Health


Home Visiting

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Early Childhood Infrastructure

Data systems

Early Childhood Governance 



1 Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, November, 2022 

2 National Center for Children in Poverty, Children Ages 0 to 8 Below 200 Percent Poverty, March 2023, NCCP analysis of ACS 1-Year Estimates – Public Use Microdata Sample 2021

3 National Association of State Budget Officers, Summaries of Fiscal Year 2024 Enacted Budgets, October 11, 2023.

4 National Conference of State Legislatures, 2023 State & Legislative Partisan Composition, February 28, 2023.

5 Ballotpedia, Ballot Measures by State, Kids Count Data Center, retrieved May, 2023.

6 Alliance for Early Success, Multi-State Initiatives for Early Childhood Policy Advocacy, April, 2022.

7 Alliance for Early Success, State-Wide Advocacy Highlights Survey, April-August, 2023.  

More State Policy Data:

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South Carolina

More State Demographic Data:

South Carolina
South Carolina