- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Senate tentatively approved a budget plan Wednesday that makes kindergarten for 4-year-olds available to thousands of additional poor children.

Senators gave a key second reading to a $7 billion spending plan for state taxes. But they carried over debate on most amendments. They will attempt to wrap up their work Thursday.

Senators rejected an effort to make aid to local government a higher budget priority than expanding full-day kindergarten for 4-year-old children.

The 29-13 vote killed a proposal by Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin. He wanted to restore $16 million to local government by swapping its placement on a surplus funding list with money expanding 4K.

“We’re stabilizing local governments to prevent the hemorrhaging from continuing,” said Martin, R-Pickens. He said the state should fund its obligations before a program expansion.

But most senators wanted to keep all $24 million for the expansion in the regular budget. It would expand state-paid full-day 4K to 14 additional school districts, making it accessible to poor children in 65 districts.

A compromise that senators passed last month on the “Read to Succeed” bill calls for eventually providing access to all at-risk 4-year-olds statewide.

“The earlier we start with educating children, the better off we are,” said Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville. “I don’t want to upset the apple cart as it relates to where we want to be.”

Senators believe both items will eventually be funded. The surplus list will get funded if the state collects more revenue than currently projected. The $16 million in local aid is near the top of the list. That would bring total distributions to counties and cities back to $213 million, unchanged since 2012-13. Under state law, it should be at nearly $290 million.