How will the state budget proposed by Governor Doug Ducey impact children? Dana Naimark, President and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, will discuss the issue.
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Governor Ducey's recently released budget adds money for child safety but makes cuts to child care vouchers and non-classroom K-12 education. Here to tell us more about how the budget might impact kids is Dana Naimark of the Children's Action Alliance. Good to see you.
Dana Naimark: Good see you.
Ted Simons: Governor's budget, general thoughts.
Dana Naimark: General thoughts, I'm worried about the long term trajectory for kids and families. We know we have a big budget deficit and there are some bright spots but in the big picture, it's a scary path to the future.
Ted Simons: It looks like it is in general kind of a two-year spending freeze. Is that how you see it, as well, in general?
Dana Naimark: No. Governor Ducey has described it as a realignment to match spending with revenues. I view many of these changes as permanent in his plan and that's what I'm worried about.
Ted Simons: I think the idea is that revenues should be increasing within a couple of years and that's when you go back to some of the things that are cut or frozen now and maybe I -- that's probably a positive angle on it.
Dana Naimark: Well, he has given no indication that the cuts to Universities or the underfunding of school inflation would be temporary or changed in the future.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about how the budget, the Governor's plan, impacts kids. What do you see?
Dana Naimark: Well, some good news. He's really thoughtful about child safety and sustains the funding for the new Department of Child Safety. He really continues a shift that the legislature talked about, which is moving funding from the crisis backlog into in-home services to help children stay safely at home and avoid foster care, that's a really good thing.
Ted Simons: That's like $4 million, something like that?
Dana Naimark: Right.
Ted Simons: That is being used for the backlog of uninvestigated cases? You say good thing.
Dana Naimark: It's a good thing, absolutely.
Ted Simons: As far as the cut-back on child care vouchers, I'm guessing you don't say good thing.
Dana Naimark: We really think that's a mistake, and we certainly would call on the governor to correct that mistake that. Child care funding which happens to be $4 million was part of the child safety package. The point of that is to prevent child neglect and reduce the growth in the caseload to CPS. Child care is vital. When parents don't have safe and affordable child care it can reinsulate in situations of neglect for their kids.
Ted Simons: How do those vouchers work?
Dana Naimark: They are literally vouchers. Parents can take them to the private sector and also go to family homes for child care. The voucher pays part of the cost and makes the child care much more affordable.
Ted Simons: Was this a comeback or a complete elimination?
Dana Naimark: We only have $4 million in general fund for child care. He's zeroing out the general fund dollars. The federal program will continue but we have a long waiting list because the need is much greater than the budget right now.
Ted Simons: We've got shift the K-12 administration costs, cutting those, moving what's cut over to the classrooms. Your thoughts.
Dana Naimark: I actually think there's a lot of mislabeling in this budget about K-12. When I look at it I don't see any shift into the classroom. I see an underfunding of inflation. He's got about one fifth of the inflation fund that get court ordered. And I see a cut to what is called non-classroom spending. But it's a mislabeling. We've been talking about classroom spending as good and non-classroom spending as bad. In fact, non-classroom spending is intimately connected to students' success. It's things like air-conditioning in our schools, school security officers, counselors, nurses, guidance, speech therapy, things that students need to succeed.
Ted Simons: And we should make it clear again, the idea is that there is more money going to the classroom, which is what was pronounced by the Governor. But again, that money is going to the classroom because it is being cut to these non-classroom areas.
Dana Naimark: There's really not more money going into the classroom. He's shifting money out of the classroom for what's called student success, into money for facilities. So literally his budget shifts money from the classroom facilities. That's okay, we need good facilities for schools, and we need good overhead and we need reading coaches for teachers and we need counselors and things that are not called classroom spending. And teachers need that. They need the support. We have a huge teacher shortage in our state. One of the reasons is that teachers don't feel they have the support to do their job well. If you take away that non-classroom funding, you're reducing their support even more.
Ted Simons: I guess $24 million is the amount to build and expand these public school buildings. You say good idea, but just the process getting there is suspect, as far as you are concerned.
Dana Naimark: I'm worried about the cuts to K-12 operations and the long term impact that will have on all of our goals for student success.
Ted Simons: As far as the monthly stipend to foster families with 12 to 18-year-old kids, with the kids in the household, that's got to be a good thing.
Dana Naimark: That's a good thing. The Governor again has been thoughtful about wanting to move children out of group homes and into families. We absolutely support that and restoring that rate will help.
Ted Simons: Does Arizona still have a higher rate of foster kids than most other states?
Dana Naimark: We do, we've been growing, for a variety of reasons. It's the fact that we're catching up on the backlog he and we don't have a good array of in-home services right now. We can do much better than that.
Ted Simons: Did the group homes, I guess not only are they most costly, they are just not as good for kid, are they?
Dana Naimark: That's exactly right. It's hard to have a normal childhood when you're living in a group home.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about keeping child offenders under the age of 14 in their home counties as opposed to bottled up in one place.
Ted Simons: Again, I think a very thoughtful proposal and a good way to use the budget to help facilitate a good policy outcome. We want children to be safe in their homes and communities and not be in a secure statewide facility.
Ted Simons: I think that's just about $12 million to counties which they will have to find a way to pay for.
Dana Naimark: That's the challenge there, to make sure the counties have the services to provide, and that they can provide the funding, as well.
Ted Simons: As far as kids are concerned in general, the cuts to Medicaid reimbursement, that sort of thing, how much does that impact families, kids?
Dana Naimark: Well, it does. When you connect the Dots I think it weakens our health care system. It says to doctors, to hospitals, we're going pay you less and we may be paying you less than the cost of care. Some providers will drop out and say, we're not doing this anymore. It makes it harder to access health care for everyone.
Ted Simons: As far as moving to state behavioral health services all under AHCCCHS as opposed to separating them, your thoughts?
Dana Naimark: I think it trick will be how we get there.
Ted Simons: I did not see kids care in the budget --
Dana Naimark: Great catch.
Ted Simons: I probably won't see kids care. Quickly, couple minutes left. What is kids care and why is it so important to folks like you?
Dana Naimark: Kids care is health coverage for children in low-income working families. We had a very strong program for many years, bipartisan support. It's extremely cost-effective. It keeps kids healthy and learning in school. Right now we're the only state in the country without it. We froze I had and phased it out and every other state still has it. Even with the new marketplace plans under Obamacare they don't work as well for kids in low-income families.
Ted Simons: I know kids care is very important to you, you've talked about it quite a bit. There is a push or any hint of getting that back?
Dana Naimark: Well, right now Congress has to do their part because they have to reauthorize it federally. We're asking our federal lawmakers as well as our local lawmakers to work together and to chart a path to restore kids care.
Ted Simons: Last question: This governor, this legislature, maybe not now, maybe in the future, are you optimistic as some of the things you're seeing cut back here and not being properly funded there, if the economy gets going, they will get funding?
Dana Naimark: I always have to be optimistic as a child advocate. We need your viewers, people around the state to get involved and speak up and really tell Governor Ducey and their own legislators what's important to them. Without that, things will stay status quo.
Ted Simons: Dana, always a pleasure to see you.
Dana Naimark: Thank you.
Dana Naimark:President and CEO, Children's Action Alliance;