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The legislature reconvened today after a two week break.  My day was a busy one as I focused on three issues that have attracted a lot of attention this session- taxes, commercial sexual exploitation of children, and guns.

 I began the morning at a rally in support of a $1 increased tax on tobacco.  The bill is what supporters are calling a win-win-win.  It is a win for children’s health as higher costs have been found to deter teen smoking.  It is a win because it has been projected to raise approximately $354 million annually in revenues.  And, finally, it is a win because it is popular.  73%of Georgia voters favor an increased tax on tobacco.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a substitute to SB 304 this afternoon.  Instead of the original version of the bill which would have mandated that children under 16 could not have been prosecuted for prostitution, the substitute would, instead, provide that the child be treated as an unruly child and directs the Governor’s Office for Children and Families to develop an appropriate system of care for such children.  Advocates including Georgia Women for a Change, the Catholic Conference and the Presbytery, the Fulton County DA’s office, and a Future Not a Past spoke in support of the substitute.  Others, including Concerned Women for America and the Freedom Forum continued to express opposition and stated that the girls were not always victims but engaged in sex for money willingly and deserved punishment.  Several of the opponents’ comments led Sen. Seth Harp to ask, ‘What would Jesus have done?”  The hearing concluded without a committee vote.

Finally, late this afternoon, the Senate Special Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SB 308 which specifies where guns can be carried in public.  The bill passed the committee with just one vote opposed by Sen. Donzella James and now goes to the Rules Committee.


One of the bright spots on any given day under the Gold Dome is watching citizen activists, many of whom have taken the day of from work or arranged child care or simply driven across the state, learn to navigate the halls and speak with their elected officials.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting several resource coordinators (RC’s) who work to  prepare low-income Pre-K children for school by providing support services in health and wellness, child development, community resources and kindergarten readiness.  These women are clearly passionate about education and about children and they have already spent several days at the Capitol sharing stories with legislators about the effectiveness of their program which is in danger of getting cut.

Today, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) and Voices for Georgia’s Children have released two policy briefs analyzing Governor Sonny Purdue’s proposed 2011 budget for the lottery-funded Georgia Pre-K.

The FY 2011 proposed budget would keep the lottery-funded Pre-K budget flat. It calls for an additional 2000 Pre-K slots at the expense of 75% of the Department of Early Care and Learning’s Resource Coordinator (RC) program. The proposal endangers the state’s capacity to deliver essential services for an effective high-quality Pre-K program and the states’ national ranking in this vital service.

At a time when only 58% of Georgia’s 4 year-olds are served by Georgia Pre-K and over 8, 300 children are on a waiting list, the need for additional Pre-K slots is uncontroverted. Yet, Georgia Pre-K needs to expand to meet demand AND keep Resource Coordinators who are vital to providing high-quality Pre-K experiences.

I hope you’ll raise your voices with us to support for the Resource Coordinator program and additional Pre-K slots in FY 2011.

Click here to download SEF’s Georgia Pre-K Policy Briefs.

The House passed the FY 10 Amended budget today.  The bill calls for furloughs of state personnel including teachers, caseworkers and food stamp eligibility workers and cuts to funding for independent living programs, recruitment and screen of prospective adoptive parents and domestic violence shelters.  The House also rejected the Governor’s plan to pay for certain scholarships with lottery reserves and, instead, funded those scholarships with general revenue funds.  The FY 10 Amended budget now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Voices for Georgia’s Children invites you to attend their
6th Annual Legislative Breakfast on TUESDAY FEB 23.

The breakfast if presented as part of the
2010 Children’s Policy Watch at the Capital

This year’s theme: Investing in Young Children: The Value of Partnerships

The breakfast brings together more than 100 legislators and child advocates from across Georgia to focus on current policy issues affecting children in our state.



Tuesday, February 23
7:30 – 9 a.m*

NOTE: Following the legislative breakfast, from 9:40 – 10:20 a.m., JUSTGeorgia and Georgia CASA will present a briefing on issues related to safety and fairness for Georgia’s youth. This is presented as part of JUSTGeorgia/CASA Day at the Capitol. February 23 is also Georgia PTA Day at the Capitol and a lobby day for the Georgia League of Women Voters.

The Georgia Freight Depot – Blue Room

65 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30303

Legislative Breakfast speakers include:

Philip A. Peterson
(see bio below)
Senior Vice President, Aon Consulting
Advisory Board, Partnership for America’s Success

Dr. Beverly Tatum
President, Spelman College
Co-Chair, Early Education Commission

Rep. Penny Houston (R- HD 170-Nashville, GA)
Chair, House Appropriations Human Services Subcommittee


*Philip A. Peterson, Senior Vice President and a human resource consultant and actuary for Aon Consulting, specializing in global retirement strategies, stock option valuation and human capital metrics development. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Partnership for America’s Success, Phil is part of a group of influential corporate leaders who seek to highlight importance of early childhood investment as a strategy for America’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Phil currently serves on the board of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, and on the state board of the Pennsylvania Economy League. Phil helped co-create with Child Care Matters, the Aon/United Way of Southeastern PA Hand-in-Hand Award for quality child care in the business community. Phil is the co-chair of the Pennsylvania Early Learning Investment Commission, and Pennsylvania delegate to the Telluride Economic Summit on Early Childhood Investment.

I’ve been hearing that legislators are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to balance the state budget by cutting programs and raising fees while seeking to avoid increasing taxes.  That attempt to squeeze every available dollar from any possible source became clear at a hearing held last Friday by the Senate Appropriations Education Subcommittee chaired by Senator Dan Moody.

After the Department of Early Care and Learning Commissioner Holly Robinson presented the her agency’s proposed FY 10 Amended and FY 11 budgets, she was asked whether she could administer a licensing fee for child care providers if legislation instituting such a fee was passed and enacted in 2011. 

I was relieved to hear Dr. Robinson explain to the committee that “this is not an optimal time” to raise fees. Dr. Robinson stated that many providers are struggling to keep their doors open in this economy either because parents who have lost jobs have had to withdraw their children from care or because some parents are no longer able to pay their providers.  She also stated that collecting licensing fees from approximately 7000 providers would be a big job that would take substantial resources from her agency and yield relatively few dollars.

The last 8 months have presented some changes and opportunities for the child care industry in Georgia.  Dr. Robinson has spearheaded a series of quality initiatives that call for, among other things, additional training for child care providers.  Voices for Georgia’s Children supports this new training requirement, but we are aware that obtaining new credentials is an investment of time and resources for child care providers.

 Encouraging child care providers to be licensed by the state is important and the passage of a new fee for obtaining a license would be counterproductive to the efforts we’ve made to increase the availability of affordable, high quality child care for Georgia’s children.

In these lean budget times, there’s a lot of talk about “right-sizing” government. Recently I’ve also heard people speak of what government “must” do versus what government “should” do and that in these tough times, we have to let a lot of the “shoulds” go. But indulge me for a moment as I think about kids.

The other day one of my colleagues pointed out a few “shoulds” for kids. Kids should do their homework and they should brush their teeth every day. Technically, these aren’t “musts.” If they don’t do their homework this weekend, they’re not going to be expelled from school on Monday. If they don’t brush their teeth tonight, they’re not going to see all their teeth fall out by Tuesday. That said, even in tough times, we still make our kids do their homework and brush their teeth. Why? Because we know there are serious long term consequences if they fail to act responsibly today. The same is true for government, especially when it comes to caring for our kids and planning for the future of our state. That is why we MUST not continue to cut the budget of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a manner that hurts kids. We have to fund some of the “shoulds,” even if it requires increases in revenue.

One of the biggest concerns I have about the proposed DHS budget [summary available on DHS’s home page. Scroll down to Joint Appropriations Committee Presentation] is the attempt to “save” money by putting additional responsibilities on existing workers. Those existing workers are already way over-burdened and shifting more responsibility to them, will simply result in the work not getting done – not because the workers don’t care, but because the workers have reached a breaking point, they are already stretched beyond all measure and cannot be asked to do more.

A few key points about the DHS budget:

–         At a time when more people are unemployed and thus needing help – including help to feed their children, the state is reducing the number of eligibility workers.

  • When it comes to children, helping eligible people access food stamps and other essential safety net services is not a should, it’s a must.

–         At a time of greater stress for families because of the economic situation, we’re investigating fewer cases of child abuse and neglect but also cutting in-home case management contracts by $2 million.

  • Those in-home services help families whose children were diverted from state custody but are considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a should, it’s a must.

Evidence says our DHS workers are already at a breaking point.

–         The most recent report from federal monitors appointed due to a lawsuit against the state related to conditions in the child welfare system shows a significant reduction in oversight of private placements for children in foster care at the same time we’ve seen an increased percentage of children abused while in state custody (abuse rate in report is double that allowed by the lawsuit settlement and triple the newer federal standard).

–         The same report shows a dangerous drop in case workers meeting the requirement to visit children in foster care twice a month. Goal is 95% of children visit with their case managers twice a month. Last report shows only 51% of cases reviewed met that standard.

–         Maybe even scarier, the most recent Child Fatality Review Panel report reveals more than a 30% increase in “homicide deaths associated with maltreatment findings.”

–         Also check out TV news coverage of the situation in Fulton County.

Is protecting children a should or must? Apparently not all of us see eye-to-eye. What do you think?


Paper calendars are no good at the Capital during session unless you write in pencil and are willing to use an eraser!  Schedules are always subject to change with little than a few moments notice.

Please be aware that the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee meeting which was originally scheduled to begin at 9 am on Friday has been changed.  The Subcommittee will now meet  to hear the FY 10 amended budget for the Department of Early Care and Learning at 11 am in 450 CAP.

We will do our best to keep you posted on changes in scheduling throughout the session, but we urge you to also check committee schedules at the General Assembly’s website.

Various Appropriations Subcommittees will meet to hear budget presentations from agencies serving children in the upcoming days and weeks.  Here’s the schedule we have now:

Wednesday, January 27

House Appropriations- Education Subcommittee meets at  2 pm in 341 CAP for a public hearing on the FY 10 Amended Budget.  There will be a sign up sheet for members of the public who wish to speak, or you may email to asked to be placed on the list.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

House Appropriations- Human Resources Subommittee is scheduled to meet in 406 CLOB.  At 3 pm, they will hear a presentation from the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is scheduled to give its budget presentation at 4 pm.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Senate Appropriations- Education Subcommittee will meet at 9 a.a. is 450 CAP to review FY10 Amended Budget proposals for the Department of Early Care and Learning and the Department of Education.

Monday, February 1, 2010

House Appropriations- Education Subcommittee will meet at 2 pm in 341 CAP for budget presentations from the Department of Education and will accept public comments on the FY10 amended budget.

The Capitol was abuzz today with news that Speaker Ralston has asked the Appropriations Committee to craft a budget that does not rely on the Governor’s proposed provider tax to fund Medicaid. 

 At last week’s budget presentation on her department’s budget, Commissioner of the Department of Community Health (DCH) Rhonda Medows explained that her department had very few budget options.  When Georgia accepted federal funds, it agreed not to cut eligibility or benefits.  Dr. Medows stated that, without additional funds, Georgia would either have to make deep cuts to provider fees or end the Medicaid program.

It is my understanding that Speaker Ralston’s charge to the Appropriations Committee was to find cuts throughout the entire budget, not just DCH’s budget.  Many of us expect that this may lead to even deeper cuts in K-12 education which, adjusted for inflation, will fall to its lowest funding level in a decade in FY 11.

Will this exercise in extracting even more savings from a skeletal budget lead legislators to conclude that they cannot merely cut themselves out of this fiscal situation?  Will they consider revenue measures such as the tobacco tax?  Will there be further cuts to education, child welfare,public health,  juvenile justice, and other programs that ensure that our children have a brighter future?

 We’ll be watching.

Is giving parents with young children extra votes the way to ensure that Goverment prioritizes children?  One economist suggests that may boost public spending on children.

The article, in today’s New York Times blogs cites a fact sheet by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution stating that:

  • spending on children is about 2.2 % of GDP compared to the 5.3 % spent on the elderly;
  • spending on children goes up after they turn 6, despite all the evidence we have that public investments in very young children yield the most return, and
  • (this one is most sobering for someone like me with young children):

Largely as a result of differences in public subsidies, full-time, year-round child care for young children costs more than public university tuition in 44 states.

I’ll be keeping these facts in mind today as I study the Governor’s budget and analyze its effects on Georgia’s children.


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