/ Modified jan 17, 2014 4:52 p.m.

Child Welfare Reform Priority in Budget for New Fiscal Year

Gov. Jan Brewer releases proposal for Legislature; K-12 education, state infrastructure also at top of list.

Gov. Jan Brewer released her fiscal 2015 executive budget Friday, and some of the areas it prioritizes are child protection, K-12 education and infrastructure, a press release from the governor's office said.

The budget proposal, at $9.3 billion, is about $500 million higher than the current state budget. It includes the governor's projection of $8.9 billion in revenues for the fiscal year, plus an anticipated surplus from this fiscal year of $655 million.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which projects revenues and tracks spending and budgeting for the Legislature, released its budget forecasts Friday, projecting $8.7 billion in revenues.

The $200 million difference between the governor's projection and the Legislature's will be the starting point for negotiations during the legislative session that began Monday.

At the top of the list of the governor's budget is her urgency to reform Arizona's child welfare system. On Monday, during her State of the State address, Brewer announced she had abolished Child Protective Services, replacing it with a cabinet-level division, Division of Child Safety and Family Services, which will respond directly to her.

"I call on the Legislature to make the necessary budget changes to see...process through a successful conclusion," Brewer said in her statement. "Demanding higher performance standards and providing meaningful resources will ultimately improve outcomes for Arizona's most vulnerable children."

In the budget proposal, Brewer asked for an increase in personnel for the new agency to function as expected, the press release said.

The new division would need 68 additional Office of Child Welfare investigators, 212 case-carrying workers, and 120 additional staff, which would include supervisors, assistant program managers, case aids and support staff, the press release explained.

Brewer's budget also called for $25 million to cover all costs associated with creating the new agency.

For K-12 education reforms, the governor asked to implement a performance-based funding model, which would encourage improvement of education system based on incentives rewarding each student who earns "high marks," Brewer said in the budget proposal.

Brewer also addressed the long-term neglect of the state's infrastructure, and touched on the newly-launched modernization project to take care of such neglect.

Reaction came quickly from legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Democratic House Minority leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the budget included "a number of opportunities for us to work together," including K-12 schools, CPS funding and job creation. But, he said in a press release, the proposal included "some glaring oversights," with no money for child care subsidies or other help for families, for the state universities and for state and local highway needs.

State Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, called Brewer's proposal "a step in the right direction." He praised the governor's approach on K-12 education, CPS and getting at "the systemic problem" that provide barriers to helping families.

Read Brewer's budget proposal here.

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