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Advocate: Lawmakers Must Step Up for Child-Care Safety

November 9, 2009

PHOENIX - Funding to regulate Arizona child-care centers ends in January, as a result of budget cuts made to deal with the massive state deficit. It's been proposed that center operators foot the bill for regulation themselves, or that the state's First Things First pre-school agency divert some of its dedicated tobacco tax money.

Carol Stambaugh, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Arizona chapter, says lawmakers instead need to step up and take responsibility for oversight that directly affects the safety of children.

"They need to start looking at other revenue streams, other sources, to be able to run the state in such a way that essential services are covered. And making sure that children are taken care of in quality day care centers, that's an essential service."

One idea would use some of the voter-approved tobacco tax money from the First Things First pre-school programs to cover the funding shortfall. Stambaugh says it's a bad idea to let lawmakers off the hook when it comes to paying for basic state services.

"If First Things First steps in and does this, even for a one-time thing, it's letting the legislators know that they don't really have to be responsible for that, and that's a really bad message to send."

It's been suggested that child-care center operators should pay the full cost of regulation through higher license fees, but those fees would have to go up more than 8,000 percent in some cases. Stambaugh says the hike would be passed on to parents, many of whom are already just getting by.

"They might have to quit their jobs to stay home with the children. Likely those families then would end up receiving additional state assistance, which would likely cost more than it would have to simply fund the services for child-care licensing that needs to be done."

Lawmakers are expected to begin a special session next week to make further cuts to the current state budget, which is an estimated two billion dollars in the red.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ