All of us believe that preparing children for school is a great idea; the problem, in the case of the S.C. First Steps to School Readiness program (a.k.a. “First Steps”), is the fact that we should expect it to actually happen. I mean, after all, the money actually happened. Like $17.9 million worth of state dollars this year alone.
Check out the newly revised First Steps website (www.scfirststeps.org) and you might believe the agency has made a difference. You might believe it is responsible for the improvement in retention rates in first grade, as its leaders claim.
After all, it is reasonable to assume that since the S.C. Department of Education (SCDOE) serves 23,000 children in four-year-old kindergarten – and First Steps only serves 500 statewide – that First Steps is the entity responsible for the improvement in retention rates.
Isn’t it? Of course not.
It is widely known that the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (LAC) has completed, but not yet released, a devastating report about the incredible mismanagement and stark lack of results achieved by First Steps. It is so bad that even our legislature is reluctant to reauthorize them as required this year. They are looking at a one year proviso or joint resolution just to keep the staff employed on July 1st.
Given the fact that the LAC report has not been released (a certain First Steps board member is also on the LAC board), legislators feel compelled to give the agency a one year extension “until all the facts are in.”
There is just one problem with that – a glaringly obvious question which not one legislator or reporter has been asking: Where is the evaluation report on First Steps that the agency was legislatively mandated to provide by January 2012? Check out the evaluations page on their website, which indicates that they are legally required to provide an evaluation every three years.
Where is the 2012 evaluation?
Then ask yourself this: Why would anyone consider reauthorizing this organization for even one more day when they don’t take their own law seriously? The facts we need to gauge the effectiveness of this program should already be in. Unfortunately, legislative mandates are just “suggestions” to people like First Steps Executive Director Susan DeVenny.