Beaufort County school officials pushed state lawmakers Tuesday to expand early childhood education.
That requests came during a meeting of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation at the county administration building in Beaufort.
School board chairman Bill Evans urged the legislators to increase funding for early childhood education as well as for expanded job opportunities, workshops, life-skills training, classes and other activities for students with special needs who "age out" of the school system.
"The biggest issue we face is the need to continue to fund and expand early childhood education," Evans told the delegation. "State and national data clearly show the need to expose children to formal schooling earlier in their life and build fundamental learning skills .... before they start kindergarten and first grade."
The district spent about $3.3 million this school year -- a mix of local, state and federal money -- to provide full- and half-day kindergarten to 829 at-risk 4-year-olds.
Evans said there are hundreds more who need help.
The General Assembly this year included $26 million in a $22.7-billion state budget to expand full-day, 4-year-old kindergarten for poor students into 17 additional school districts. Beaufort County was excluded because household incomes and property values were too high.
"Beaufort County has a strong presence in early childhood education already," said Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, who owns Hobbit Hill Preschool in Beaufort. "What we are seeing on the state level is a movement to help the more impoverished children in counties with a higher poverty rate."
Evans contends high-income levels and property values in certain parts of the county have obscured a large segment of the population "that is in poverty and doesn't get recognized because they get washed into the average."
Erickson argued the additional money spent on 4K in the 17 districts should free up other money for a statewide child care voucher program that low-income parents here could use for day care, nursery school or preschool.
Members of the county's Disabilities and Special Needs Board also asked for help in winnowing waiting lists for mentally disabled adults seeking services.
County Council on Monday approved a $300,000 allocation for a group home in southern Beaufort County, but Disabilities and Special Needs Board members Jonathan Brown and David Greene told delegates many special needs adults continue to wait for services.
Brown said 52 such adults are waiting to be placed in group homes, down from 70. Many more await at-home help, he said.
"These are people who do not have a voice," Brown said. "We want to speak for those people and help lend support."
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