Lawsuit Bodes Ill for Child Care Expansion -- Cooperation Rare for DHS, Operators

By Amy, Jeff | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), October 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

Lawsuit Bodes Ill for Child Care Expansion -- Cooperation Rare for DHS, Operators


Amy, Jeff, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


JACKSON It seems crazy that to get the state Department of Human Services to negotiate with them, Mississippi's child-care providers had to sue the agency.

But there was Asst. Atty. Gen. Earl Scales, outside a Jackson courtroom last week, saying DHS was ready to invite opponents to the table to talk about concerns. When asked why DHS didn't take that step until it was sued, Scales said the agency was only legally required to collect public comments.

The agency wants parents who get federal subsidies for child care to use finger scanners electronic devices that analyze fingerprints to sign in and out. Child-care operators don't like the idea, in part because they believe it will cost them money. They filed suit after DHS skipped a required economic impact statement, forcing the agency to restart its rule-making process.

The legalistic outlook seems to exclude actual listening by the agency making the rules. If government is just going to dispense with the comments and do what it wants anyway, what's the point?

Scales said DHS would invite some opponents to the table to talk about concerns, which would be a step forward if the agency actually hears aggrieved members of the public. DHS had until recently been silent in the face of concerns, allowing opponents to whip up a frenzy.

All this would be a sideshow, except there's a push on to expand state spending on preschool in Mississippi. And private child care businesses are the avenue favored by many to deliver those services. It would be a lot cheaper than school districts essentially adding another grade, especially when many districts would have to build or retrofit classrooms for 4-year-olds.

The fuss over finger-scanning has gotten inflated by the economic pressure that private child care operators face. The amount of federal money in the subsidy program has dropped and there are fewer vouchers to go around, making it hard for some child care centers to stay open. …

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Lawsuit Bodes Ill for Child Care Expansion -- Cooperation Rare for DHS, Operators
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