by Max Brantley
Stephens Media has been closely following the apparent implosion of an agency in Russellville that has overseen Head Start programs in 13 counties. The latest news is that it will give up federal Head Start money and turn over federally financed programs to another agency. It will keep operating centers financed with private money or state ABC money. Payrolls have been missed. Money has been borrowed against a building. Personnel has changed. Only yesterday, the governor's office insisted to me this was a one-day payroll blip.
You don't give up federal funds lightly. Call me crazy, but I don't think the state should lightly continue to pour its money into an agency that has sent up such a red flag.
But .... DHS is the same agency that never saw a need to enforce the state law that prohibits religious instruction in its ABC programs. It is the agency where, Matt Campbell tells me, an employee blew off his telephone call about such spending in Rep. Justin Harris' religious daycare, Growing God's Kingdom. (DHS says it has "no record" of Campbell's call. I bet not.)
DHS is the agency that has drawn up rules transparently designed to give Harris wiggle room around prohibitions on use of federal money for religious instruction. It has made it clear in answers to my questions that whatever Harris does outside a seven-hour state window in the day is of no concern to the state. It has repeatedly refused to tell me that it will pay attention to the public dollars undergirding activities at Harris' center — building, utilities, food, staff — after that seven-hour window. It also says it can find none of the federal court cases found by Americans United for Separation of Church and State that say Harris and Sen. Johnny Key, another million-dollar legislative recipient of public money who uses it to teach religion in a pre-school, may not post religious materials in his publicly financed classrooms.
I don't know why I'd expect the state to have a care about federal concerns in the operation of a financially insolvent Head Start program given the state's record on monitoring of ABC programs. (Or, for that matter, its record on monitoring illegal borrowing at the Forestry Commission.) God will provide, won't She?
BTW: The state also claims it had NO — NO, I tell you — idea there was any religion going on in Justin Harris' daycare until Americans United complained formally. Its site inspectors apparently were blindfolded when they entered his parking lot (see photo above from months ago). They clearly didn't read the dozens of news articles here and elsewhere about his proselytizing.