NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)– “Do we blow up DCS? Do we blow up the board? What do we do?” Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) remembers debating with a fellow lawmaker.
Roberts is the chair of the Government Operations Committee, which oversees the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. He says the problems plaguing DCS were so bad at one point last year that he discussed using all the powers of his committee to reform it.
“We have had nothing but problems since 1996 of varying degrees, so do we have it structured wrong? Do we have a fundamental flaw in how we have structured this entity? Do we have a fundamental flaw in the way we funded it? The way we’ve organized it? Do we need to just blow it up and start all over? Do we need to take the various functions and give them to other people? Do we even need a DCS?” Roberts remembers asking.
While he has filed legislation to extend the department through 2024, Roberts’ bill would also require DCS to submit quarterly reports to his committee on the progress they’ve made to address the issues noted in the recent audit of the department.
However, Roberts was clear he has faith in the future of the department because he has faith in its new leader.
“Maybe I need to start the Commissioner Quin fan club but we just think that was a great hire,” he said.
In November, Quin asked for $156 million in extra state funds to help reform the department.
But even if approved, that funding won’t come down until the summer, which some democrats say is too far off.
“We have the money to do this,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knox) last year.
In a letter addressed to Governor Bill Lee from November, 11 Democratic state legislators say it is “simply cruel” for the state to not take immediate action to reform the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
The letter states that “We currently have billions in reserve, and our negligence is indefensible.”
While the state does have more than $1.5 billion in “rainy day funds,” a report from the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration found during a four-month period in 2022 tax revenues were $742.7 million higher than expected.
When asked if the governor plans to give money to DCS earlier, a spokesperson did not directly answer but advised reviewing what Quin said she will do for the department in a December hearing with lawmakers.
Sen. Roberts said there is a “robust” plan in the works to reform DCS and he is concentrating his energy on their budget requests.
“My larger concern is that the budget we see here in a few weeks has the money we need and we don’t say also if we throw money at it it will solve the problem because that doesn’t work,” he said.