Sen. Molly Baumgardner pressed colleagues Wednesday to answer public criticism of legislators by supporting her proposal for child welfare reform.
The Louisburg Republican said she regularly hears from people who demand to know what she is doing to fix a broken foster care system. Her idea is to establish dedicated health care and online education systems for children who enter into state custody.
“I feel people need to stay in their lanes," Baumgardner said, "but, by golly, when legislators are blamed for not fixing foster care, for turning a blind eye, then we need to step forward and say, 'All right, here’s something different. Let’s try this.' ”
She told the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee that education falls through the cracks when children are placed into the system and, as is often the case, are shuffled from one home to the next. Only 50 percent of foster care kids graduate from high school, she said.
Senate Bill 122 would have the Kansas State Department of Education track academic records, make sure online access is available and provide a laptop for high school students in state custody as they transfer from one school to the next.
The bill would establish a new arm of KanCare, as Medicaid is known in Kansas, to serve foster care children through a nonprofit managed care organization.
“I’m just going to ask you: What is the cost for 5,500 kids not graduating from high school?" Baumgardner said. "What is the cost for them to be missing, for them to be homeless? For them to have mental health problems that aren’t getting addressed because they’re runaways, or because they’re getting shifted from one foster home to another?"
Laura Howard, secretary of the Department for Children and Families, said she appreciated the intent of Baumgardner's bill but raised concerns with the administrative consequences.
The state would be hard-pressed to meet the legislation's July 1, 2020, deadline to contract with an MCO, Howard said. Federal regulations require a choice of at least two MCOs, she said, and it could take months of negotiations to secure a waiver.
Howard said the department is in the process of making changes to improve the foster care system, and those plans would need to be placed on hold. Among other administrative hurdles, the state would need to update software systems.
“My point in this is there are some significant administrative pieces and time associated with that," Howard said. "I don’t stand up here trying to sound bureaucratic about it, but I don’t want the Legislature to have some expectations in terms of the time frames.”
She said existing managed care contracts already cover some of the services that would be transferred to the new MCO, which could create confusion and make it difficult to determine who should be held accountable.
“I don’t want to land with a system that creates more confusion and less coordination when I know the intention of this is to not have that happen," Howard said.