Friday, April 17, 2009

For the Children

Last week the Senate voted 28-6 in favor of HB 245, the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Support Program. Now, its on its way to the Governor where its future is unknown.

As background, PAT is a nationally recognized program that uses the home visit model for early childhood education. Unlike programs that take the child out of the home, PAT seeks to teach parents to be the teachers. The program is very low cost compared to other early childhood programs. While it certainly isn't the perfect solution for early childhood education, it is definitely 500 times better than nothing at all. It is tough to compare the effectiveness of PAT with other types of programs, but for what it is, it is a good program. For more information about it, check out the National Parents as Teachers website here.

In Idaho, PAT operated under executive order of former Governor Dirk Kempthorne. The program was a huge success and found an ally in former First Lady Patricia Kempthorne. The program operated throughout the State by funding through federal TANF funds. In 2007, when Governor Otter was elected, he questioned whether or not TANF funds were allowed to be used for PAT. He concluded that they were not and by executive order ended the program.

Late in the 2008 legislative session I was approached by some community members to reconstitute of PAT in Idaho. I put together an RS and submitted it to House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini. Due to the lateness of the RS, however, it was decided that the legislation should wait another year before being introduced.

After I was successfully re-elected in November 2008 (thank goodness), I again began to attempt to drum up support for PAT. I immediately found an ally in newly elected Representative Brian Cronin from Boise's north end. We continued to refine the language of the legislation and I will say that Brian helped make my good bill a great bill. Through some negotiation and good fortune, we also were able to secure sponsorship of Rep. Nonini as well as House Education Committee vice-chair Mack Shirley. The bill sailed through the House.

Now we are back to now. Having been signed by the Speaker and sent to the Governor the ball is in his court. The Governor has three options at his disposal. He can either sign the bill, let the bill go into law without his signature, or veto the bill. For the sake of the families of Idaho, I hope he doesn't do the latter. If the Governor attempts to use PAT as a political football against myself or anyone else, he will be doing so at the disadvantage of Idaho's families. The fact is that if he does so and uses the funding piece and excuse, it is exactly that, an excuse. The billl does not authorize the expenditure of any funds, including TANF funds. PAT is a positive step for Idaho.

Governor, for the children, sign HB 245.

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