ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s primary child care resources should move into the Department of Education because learning begins long before kindergarten starts, child care advocates told lawmakers in two days of hearings this week on a relocation proposal.
But the Department of Human Resources, where the Child Care Administration is now housed, said the agency has programs interlocking with the department’s welfare system, making it difficult to move.
“We don’t think it makes sense,” said Human Resources Secretary Christopher McCabe. “Any change can be burdensome.”
The move has some strong legislative backing with the chairwomen of the two committees hearing the bills Wednesday and Thursday as sponsors: Ways and Means Committee chief Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, and Senate, Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee honcho Paula Hollinger.
“It’s not a punitive bill,” said Hollinger to McCabe, before the department had even finished its testimony. “This is about education. Education isn’t really your responsibility.”
Many child care advocates said Human Resources has consistently cut the agency’s budget, and, moreover, its mission “protect the health, safety and welfare of children” fails to include education.
“It helps people who are vulnerable be safe and secure. It’s all remedial,” said John Surr, Maryland Association for the Education of Young Children. “But education prevents these remedial programs. We think it would be better run with Education.”
McCabe argued that the agency’s Purchase of Care program, which provides child care subsidies to low-income and welfare families, is involved with other welfare programs within the department, including food stamps and Medicaid.
“We are a designated state agency to run (welfare),” said McCabe.
But child care advocates say that child care is a poor fit there.
“Child care is not a welfare system” said Amy Dapsauski, a registered family child care provider.
Purchase of Care children, she said, only make up about 15 percent of all children in Maryland receiving child care services.
“Are all of Maryland’s children to be regulated to a welfare system rather than an educational system due to these 15 percent?” Dapsauski said.
The programs of the Child Care Administration, said the administration’s executive director, Judith Rozie-Battle, are not limited to disadvantaged children, but available to every Maryland family seeking regulated child care.
However, the department itself has already moved two other social services programs to the Department of Human Resources, the Family Support Centers Network and the Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
Human Resources also said the move of the whole agency would be too costly because the agency’s computers are different than those used by the Education Department.
Henry Nichols, chief financial officer of Department of Human Resources, said funding to change computer configurations and other costs related to relocation could cost $7 million to $9 million.
“The program should stay where it is,” Nichols said.
Those problems can be surmounted “with a little bit of creativity,” said Clinton Macsherry with the Maryland Committee for Children.
The Department of Education has not taken a position on the bill.
“We would strongly suggest a comprehensive study on what would best serve the Department of Human Resources population and the education component”, said State Superintendent, Dr. Nancy Grasmick. “We are thrilled to accept anything that is determined to be appropriate for education.”