COLUMBIA – 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 an expansion of kindergarten for 4-year-olds, or 4K. It also includes an early intervention program to try to ensure students can read by fourth grade with the help of coaches and summer 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 help.

Haley said the program will use individual assessments and focus on the growth of a child’s reading ability.

“If a child cannot read by third grade, they are four times less likely to graduate on time. We also know that we ranked 42nd in reading when it came to the assessment for fourth graders,” Haley said. “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.”

As for her initial lack of support for expanding kindergarten for 4-year-olds, 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 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, welcomed the signing and said the 4K and its expansion is the first step of the Read to Succeed Act.

“You have to have 4-year-old kindergarten for at-risk students with the Read to Succeed Act,” Setlzer said. “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.”

Setzler said Democrats had been pushing for expanding 4K to poor children for several years. He said the Read to Succeed Act is the result of Democrats coming to agreement with Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, and Republicans to combine their efforts of boosting reading with expanding kindergarten.

At a cost of $26 million, the state last year expanded to full-day 4K program to include an additional 3,200 children in 17 school districts. A total of 8,400 four-year-olds currently participate in the state-funded program in 54 of the 85 school districts in the state. The proposed budget seeks to expand 4K to a total of 61 districts statewide at a cost of $20 million.