by Max Brantley
Those who don't regularly follow Stephens Media should check in periodically. Pretty much alone, it's been following the implosion of an agency in Russellville that provided Head Start to almost 1,700 kids.
First the feds stepped in to take over the federally funded part of the program for 1,300 kids. But the state Department of Human Services insisted that the Russellville agency, Child Development Inc., was a quality provider and there was no reason to be concerned about its continuing to provide Head Start for almost 400 more kids under the Arkansas Better Chance program.
Really? Turns out CDI will drop the state money, too. Good thing. Questions mount. Such as about the money deducted from employees' checks for health insurance coverage that wasn't purchased. Also about borrowing on a building to meet payroll. Also about missed paychecks. It was a mystery to me why DHS jumped immediately to the defense of this agency several days ago, not stopping to hesitate and consider whether money shuffles might also include state-funded operations, too. It also made no sense that the state for a time seemed perfectly willing to accept parallel operation of Head Start in the same facility by two agencies — one stripped of federal money because of problems.
But this is DHS and this is the ABC program. DHS turned a blind eye for years to the state law that prohibits religious instruction in schools funded by ABC money. Two state legislators, Rep. Justin Harris and Sen. Johnny Key, provided Bible and prayer throughout the day for the kids for which they were well-compensated, to the open knowledge of everybody but DHS.