Keep funding worthy First 5 programs

April 26, 2007 12:00 am
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We've long supported health insurance for all of California's children. It can't come at the expense of existing efforts to meet a wide variety of children's other needs, such as early literacy, nutrition and school readiness, however. Unfortunately, that's what is proposed in a new state Senate bill that ultimately would end First 5 programs across California, including those in Del Norte County.

SB 893, proposed by Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, in part aims to end services that would be duplicated if universal health care for children were established. Streamlining services certainly makes sense and ought to be considered whenever new programs are created. So money going to First 5 programs for health screenings might be routed instead to health care.

But First 5 does far more than health screenings or what universal health care for children would support. Health care doesn't mean caregiver education to ensure impoverished children are ready for school, as occurs in Del Norte County. Health care doesn't mean offering training to early care and education providers, or working to retain them, as occurs in many other California counties. Health care doesn't mean ensuring children's homes are safe by working to reduce family violence.

Supporters of Cox's bill say that First 5 programs need more accountability and transparency and offer audits to back up this charge. But irregularities can be addressed without ending valuable programs. Lawmakers simply need to establish higher accounting standards.

Some bill supporters also are unhappy that a few First 5 county programs spend money on illegal immigrants' children. But those children also need to be healthy and ready for school, if only for the broader public good. Viruses don't check citizenship papers, after all.

The move to redirect First 5 funding is shortsighted and hardly in the best interests of California's children. Rather than eliminate worthy programs, lawmakers should focus on coming up with reasonable ways to fund universal health care.