Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget proposal would increase funding for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which has come under fire recently for refusing to turn over records in the cases of child deaths. Haslam’s spending plan would boost DCS funding by nearly $7 million--money The Tennessean reports would be used to hire 62 more caseworkers and investigators, while boosting pay for those already on staff.
Tennessee lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings into why more than 70 children died last year after having some contact with the department. A group of media outlets in the Volunteer State is suing the DCS for refusing to make public agency documents concerning child deaths.
Last week, A Davidson County Chancery Court Judge ruled the DCS must provide more information regarding the causes of death, the department’s prior involvement with the children, and the results of prior contact provided to those who later died.
Governor Bill Haslam has presented to lawmakers the spending plan that includes a staffing shakeup at the troubled Department of Children's Services, a heavy investment into construction projects around the state and a large deposit into the state's cash savings fund.
The Governor also formally introduced his proposal to create a limited school voucher program in Tennessee to allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools. According to legislation filed in the Senate on Monday, the program would be limited to 5,000 students in the school year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 students by 2016.
Haslam acknowledged the proposal will be "hotly debated" and Democrats issued a statement before the speech to criticize the plan.
A Tennessee judge has ruled that the state’s Department of Children’s Services must make public more information about the deaths of young people known to the agency.
A group of Tennessee media outlets, led by The Tennessean newspaper, filed suit against the Department of Children’s Services, alleging the department violated the law by refusing to provide records concerning children who died after being brought to the agency’s attention. At first, the DCS said it would make more records available, but then cited state and federal confidentiality laws as a reason to withhold the documents.
Two high-ranking Tennessee Republicans, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, recently announced they would seek legislative hearings into DCS practices.
The media outlets seek records related to 31 Tennessee children who died in the first half of 2012, as well as the cases of 206 young people involved in fatal or near-fatal incidents dating back to 2009.