EdSourceProponents of establishing a “Children’s Cabinet” in California to coordinate the vast array of services for children delivered by multiple state agencies have not given up on it, despite failing to convince the Legislature to endorse the idea this year.

The purpose of a Children’s Cabinet would be to ensure that state agencies coordinate their activities to make sure state funds are spent in the most effective way possible and that services aren’t duplicated.

Traditionally, for example, there has been little coordination between agencies providing health services to children, and those involved with K-12 education, despite widespread recognition of the impact of health on education, and vice versa.

The idea of children’s cabinet is hardly an original idea. Some 20 states, including Maryland,  Florida, and Maine have some form of coordinating body for children’s services.

But the idea has yet to take root  in California.

During the last legislative session, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, introduced AB 823 to establish the children’s cabinet as an advisory body which would include the State Superintendent of Public Education, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or their designees, and the heads of several other state agencies

The bill was approved in the Assembly, but didn’t make it past the Senate Appropriations Committee.  The panel estimated that the cabinet could cost $500,000 in staff time to coordinate the cabinet’s activities and to produce the biennial report called for in the legislation — a figure disputed by supporters.

The bill, which was sponsored by Children Now, an Oakland-based advocacy organization, floundered despite getting the support of groups ranging from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association to the California State PTA. For more details about the proposal, check out this description.

A Children’s Cabinet was one of the principal recommendations of Children Now’s 2011 California Report Card. The recommendation was based on the assumption that children’s services in California are scattered among numerous state bureaucracies that often operate at cross-purposes.

Children Now’s President Ted Lempert said that one option is to persuade Gov. Brown to establish the cabinet by issuing an executive order. But he noted that the bill is a two-year bill, which means supporters of the idea can continue to push for its passage in the coming year.

“One way or another we will make it happen,” he said.

The Children’s Cabinet idea ran afoul of several countervailing pressures in Sacramento. One was Governor Brown’s attempt to dismantle some of the state’s less important boards and commissions, and establishing a children’s cabinet was seen as going in the opposite direction.  However, Lempert argues that the Children’s Cabinet is not equivalent to a new commission because “it is an effort to connect what already exists.”   Another was the cost factor,

In arguing in favor of the idea, Children Now pointed out how a Children’s Cabinet in other states made a difference. In Maryland, for example, an early childhood strategic plan led to a 20 percent increase in school readiness. A Children’s Cabinet in Kansas identified under-performing programs and redirected funds being spent on them to more effective ones.

Similarly, given the massive amounts of funds currently spent on children in California, better coordination of services could result in greater efficiencies or even cost savings for the state. Currently it is not even clear how much California spends on its children because of the myriad programs that they benefit from both directly and indirectly.

Taking local, state and federal spending into account, some $43 billion are spent on K-12 funding; $2.2 billion on child care services; $1.2 billion on child welfare services, foster care and adoptions; and  $1.2 billion on the state’s Healthy Families health insurance program for children. Billions more are spent on programs like CalWORKS, Medi-Cal, and Food Stamps which benefit children and families.

Celia Mata, Assemblyman Dickinson’s legislative director, said that he hasn’t given up on the Children’s Cabinet idea. “This is something he truly believes in,” she said. “He believes that a children’s cabinet will only contribute to the best use of state resources.”

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