ANNAPOLIS – It’s not unusual that programs associated with elementary, middle and high schools are part of the Maryland State Department of Education.
But what may seem a little off the mark to some has advocates heralding its wisdom: the Ehrlich administration is moving two traditionally social services programs to the Education Department.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich relocated The Child Care Resource and Referral Network and the Family Support Center Network late last month from the Department of Human Resources to Maryland State Department of Education.
“It’s about time that we put these programs where they belong,” Ehrlich said when he announced the moves.
The moves are the latest steps in his child-first agenda, which emphasizes early childhood education.
“Experts tell us that 90 percent of all brain development occurs by the age of 5,” Ehrlich said.
The Child Care Resource and Referral Network matches parents to quality licensed child care in Maryland. It is run by the Maryland Committee for Children, a group that would rather be a part of the Department of Education than the Department of Human Resources.
“The Department of Human Resources does not consider child care a priority,” said Clinton Macsherry, public policy director for Maryland Committee for Children.
The department cut the child-care network from $5.8 million to $3.8 million in fiscal 2004. This fiscal year, the department recommended the program be cut by another $2 million, but the governor announced that he will fully fund the program at $3.8 million.
“(The cuts) would have completely destroyed the network,” Macsherry said.
The Family Support Centers Network, run by Friends of the Family Inc., serves more than 7,500 young parents and children annually in low-income urban, suburban and rural communities. Members of that non-profit organization also said that the Department of Education is a better fit.
There are 25 Family Support Centers around the state providing free services such as adult education, parenting classes, health education, job skills and child care while parents are the centers.
The centers serve families where 90 percent are headed by women, 60 percent receive some type of public assistance and the average age of the parents is 21, said Friends of the Family Executive Director Margaret Williams.
She said educating these families is more the mission of the Department of Education, whose goal is to “provide education for all people.” The Human Resources Department’s mission is to serve “populations with special needs.”
The Family Support Centers Network is “not a priority for the Department of Human Resources,” Williams said. Child strengthening programs are a vital part of the Education Department’s mission, she said.
Human Resources cut the network’s budget $2.1 million since fiscal 2003.
Human Resources uses more of a holistic approach when providing funding for children, and that means taking care of the most vulnerable children first, said spokesman Elyn Jones.
“Like the governor, our motto is putting children first,” Jones said.
The department plans to shift $23 million in funds for fiscal 2005 from child care vouchers to fund deficits in foster care.
Sandy Skolnik, the executive director of Maryland Committee for Children, said she was happy that the governor recognized the importance of child care.
“We are very appreciative of the governor’s actions,” Skolnik said.
The Department of Education released a study that showed that nearly half of Maryland’s children arrive at kindergarten without the skills needed to fully learn at that grade level.
Moving the two programs is a sequential fit in the continuum of education programs provided by the department said Nancy Grasmick, state schools superintendent.
“We have a very wonderful relationship with both entities,” said Grasmick.
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