Here’s how complicated state government can be
The Superintendent of the Department of Education (DOE) and lawmakers had an interesting discussion at the Senate Finance Committee meeting yesterday: why does the House-passed budget include the First Steps program as a line item? First Steps is a program with DOE whose mission is to develop, promote, and assist efforts (at the state and community level) of early childhood development. The program is well within the mission of DOE; but the question remains as to whether it should be it own operating entity.
As it stands, the program is governed by a board comprised of the governor, superintendent of education, twenty appointees (by the governor, Senate President and House Speaker), and 11 other non-voting positions representing state agencies and other organizations. If it seems odd that a program like First Steps has such a large board, it should. According to the superintendent, DOE is merely the fiscal agent of the program, with no authority over First Steps’ policies, budget, or procedures. In addition, DOE cannot fulfill the obligations of First Steps due to the recent merger of that program with the federal “Babynet” program in January of 2010. As one Senator stated, when that happened, First Steps moved from a 20- to 100-person operation.
First Steps is a program devoted to early childhood development and should remain within DOE. Babynet is a federal program whose funding is dispersed among five agencies (including First Steps) and other non-profit organizations. First Steps should remain focused on early childhood development and Babynet should be relegated to other agencies whose mission coincides with its own, namely to service developmentally disabled individuals. Babynet’s services should be consolidated with those of other agencies like DDSN, DHEC, and HHS.