PHOENIX - An Arizona lawmaker wants to use money from an early childhood development program to help fund the child welfare agency under fire after revelations that it ignored more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect reports over several years.
Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills is targeting the funds of the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board, also known as First Things First, the Arizona Capitol Times reported. The program gets its revenue from a tobacco tax.
Kavanagh said he's planning a ballot proposal to redirect a quarter of the agency's annual spending to Child Protective Services. That comes out to roughly $33 million annually, he said.
It remains to be seen if the proposal would get any traction.
If it did, it won't be the first time that lawmakers attempted to take money from the early childhood board. The last time legislators tried to sweep funds from the agency, they lost in court.
Voters also rejected lawmakers' attempt to dismantle the program in 2010, when the public rejected a ballot proposal targeting the Arizona Early Childhood Development and Health Board.
The agency has since been working to bridge differences with lawmakers. Since the loss at the ballot box in 2010, legislators have refrained from seeking to either dismantle the childhood board or sweep its revenue.
Sam Leyvas, the interim executive director of First Things First, said his group's board will likely balk at attempts to redirect the agency's revenue.
"At some point, you really just have to support the will of the voters," he said, referring to the agency's creation of First Things First in 2006 and the public's affirmation of that decision in 2010.
Leyvas said the childhood board wasn't created by voters to prevent abuse or neglect, which he maintained is the core responsibility of the state. The goal instead is to build a solid safety net system.
In a statement released Monday, Leyvas said:
About 60% of First Things First's funds already go to the very programs Rep. Kavanagh suggests we ought to be funding: child care assistance, home- and community-based mentoring for families, increased partnership with caregivers (like parents and grandparents), etc.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a solution. Taking these programs away from one group of struggling children and families in order to help another group does not help more children. You actually have to spend more to get more.
For many vulnerable Arizona families, safety net programs are what keep difficult situations from becoming harmful to children. The state's elected leaders have a complicated situation that requires long term solutions. First Thing First is already a part of the solution. Taking funds from programs that are already working to strengthen families may end up making a tough situation even worse for thousands of young children in Arizona.