Diverting Funds from First Things First to CPS: A Zero Sum Game


January 8, 2014

By Christina Martinez, DFER-AZ State Director

Adults at all levels in Arizona have been putting abused and neglected children in grave danger. Over 6,500 cases of child abuse and neglect reported did not receive a response from Child Protective Services (CPS) over the last four years. Recently, 4,900 of those cases have been assigned to investigators. There are currently two managers at CPS are on leave while they are being investigated for wrongdoing. Director of Economic Security Clarence Carter is also blamed for not meeting a December 2 deadline examining why there are nearly 7,000 uninvestigated cases of child abuse and neglect.

It is in this context that state representative John Kavanagh has proposed to re-direct money from the early childhood development program, First Things First, to CPS. Kavanagh wants to send $33 million – 25% of revenues that First Thing First receives from a tobacco tax – to CPS with the implication that early education is a lower priority and that it is money, not better management, that CPS most requires to improve.

CPS needs to be overhauled but it must be done in a way that does not perpetuate its dysfunction. Dumping money into a system that has bred alleged corruption and that is more than a month overdue in reporting the underlying causes of the agency’s abysmal performance is, to say the least, premature and about a big a waste of taxpayers money as we could think of. Even if it is ultimately determined that CPS requires an infusion of additional funds, pitting the interests of abused and neglected children against those of preschoolers is the wrong way to go about it.

In 2006, Arizonans voted for the cigarette tax in response to a need to address early childhood education and health needs for children. In a state that prides itself on low taxes, it was a landmark victory. Sam Leyvas, Interim Chief Executive Officer of First Things First, says that much of the necessity for First Things First was a result of the state itself cutting back on its own child care subsidies which created a waiting list of more than 6,700 young people. First Things First focuses on providing early education to children from low-income families to close the achievement gaps between them and their more advantaged peers. Program funds serve approximately 14,000 families to provide healthcare, scholarships for daycare and family support.

Arizona citizens used their power to vote for essential educational services to low-income families by creating First Things First. They did not vote to make FTF a slush fund for other programs and services. Thwarting those voters’ will is undemocratic and threatens the credibility of any such efforts in the future, and it makes FTF a target for such raids on its funding in the future.

It is important for voters to understand that supporting Rep. Kavanagh’s proposal does not help more children. In fact, it hurts many of the same children that CPS is charged with protecting and would cut important family supports under FTF that may also reduce or ameliorate child neglect and abuse. Our kids need CPS to find solutions to its problems based on a thorough needs assessment, evidence-based best practices, stronger leadership, and tighter safeguards against malfeasance. Arizona state kids do not deserve to have our wise investment in First Things First siphoned away and be made players in a zero sum game where they have to choose between getting a good education and staying safe.

Christina has been working in politics and government relations for most of her adult career. A passionate education reformer, Christina has helped low income students in Arizona and across the nation receive the high-quality education they deserve. She has also been a champion in the AZ legislature fighting for families that have fallen victim to zip code discrimination. Read more about Christina here.