- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley has signed into law a bill seeking to boost reading levels of South Carolina’s students.

Haley was joined by Democratic and Republican lawmakers at the signing of the Read to Succeed Act on Wednesday at the Edventure Children’s Museum.

The law seeks to increase students’ chances of graduating from high school through eventually expanding the state’s full-day kindergarten for at-risk 4-year-olds statewide. It also includes an early intervention program to try to ensure students can read by fourth grade with the help of coaches and summer reading camps.

Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, students still struggling to read by the end of third grade will be held back for intensive reading help.

The law also requires testing the language skills of 4- and 5-year-olds to identify problems as they enter school.

Haley noted that children who can’t read by third grade are far less likely to graduate, and that South Carolina’s fourth-graders score poorly on a national reading test. Last year, South Carolina’s fourth-graders scored worse than their counterparts in 38 other states and statistically the same as in nine others.

“That changes now because we are now going to say that no child will move forward past the third grade if they can’t read,” Haley said.

As for her initial lack of support for expanding 4-year-old kindergarten, Haley said it was never about being for or against it, but the question of when was the right time to start schooling for children. She said her meetings with teachers over the past year informed her of the need to make sure children are reading before the third grade.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, called the 4K expansion essential to the law’s success. Democrats, who have long fought for expanding a pilot created in 2006 in response to a court order over education funding, would not let the bill progress in the Senate without it.

“You can’t say to a child we are going to hold you back, if you don’t give them an opportunity to be successful,” he said.

Senators have praised the Read to Succeed Act as an example of what legislators can do when they work together, as the compromise that passed the Senate united the education agendas of the chambers’ Republican and Democratic caucuses.

Last year, legislators put an additional $26 million in the budget to extend the state-paid program to 17 additional school districts, enrolling an additional 3,200 children. Legislators expanded it again in their budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, designating an additional $20 million to expand access to 10 districts, bringing the state-paid program to 61 of the state’s 81 districts. That budget plan is under review by Haley.

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