“Broad public support will be crucial in the passage of the First Steps legislation,” said Chesterfield County First Steps Executive Director Karen Odom, who is leading the local petition calling for the South Carolina General Assembly to re-authorize the program that was first established in 1999 to help prepare young children for kindergarten. When the program was reauthorized in 2006, legislation called for re-authorization again in 2013.
“We want to make it very clear to our legislative delegation that the communities we serve support the work of Chesterfield County First Steps,” said Odom.
The First Steps petition states in part, “We, the undersigned, support the work of Chesterfield County First Steps and the South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness Initiative; and we call on the South Carolina General Assembly to reauthorize First Steps with legislation that protects the autonomy of the First Steps County Partnerships, preserves the capability of the Partnerships to best meet local school readiness needs with local solutions and prevents undue and unnecessary bureaucratic impediments to the effective delivery of evidenced-based school readiness programs to at-risk children and their families.”
First Steps board chairman Tony Nolan said Chesterfield County’s petition makes specific reference to maintaining the autonomy and flexibility of the County Partnerships because some of the language in the re-authorization bill suggests the intent to dilute the local emphasis. “And it’s the local emphasis that makes First Steps effective,” he said.
“The 2013 First Steps Re-authorization and Reform Legislation contains a number of needed, positive changes,” said Nolan. “But the bill also includes new language that could lead to the creation of bureaucracy in First Steps state-wide, where none currently exists; and some (language) that is disproportionately discriminatory against rural partnerships.”
The Chesterfield County First Steps board of directors unreservedly supports legislation to reauthorize First Steps, said Nolan. However, the board also wants to preserve the county-focused structure that enables the organization to most effectively serve young children and their families.
The organization has formed a Re-authorization Team to lead the petition drive in gathering community support. Team members are Karen Brock, Lane Brown, Amelia Clontz, Rev. Joel Dale, Sharon Dutton, Tony Nolan, Mary Redfearn and Rev. Ernest Winburn.
“We think that an expression of extensive grassroots support will give the delegation added impetus to work hard for passage of the bill,” said Odom.
Anyone interested in signing the First Steps petition can do so by contacting the First Steps office, First Steps board members, Re-authorization Team members or by visiting the Chesterfield County First Steps Facebook page. For more information, call 843-623-5904.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.