JEFFERSON CITY _ If Gov. Mel Carnahan has his way, children won't have to go further than their own schools to receive state social services.
The program Carnahan is promoting is called Caring Communities. Proponents say its goal is to deliver health and welfare services more efficiently to children and their families.
"This brings all of the providers to a place where the children go anyway, which is to school," said proponent Carol Schmoock of the Missouri National Education Association.
If the Caring Communities program is implemented, 30 to 60 schools throughout the state would become centers offering a variety of programs for children and families.
The Caring Communities Program was first implemented at Walbridge School in St. Louis, which has _ as Missouri Education Commissioner Robert Bartman put it _ most of the problems found in the inner city.
Some of the services being offered at the school include a latch key program which provides before and after school supervision for children with working parents, a parenting program that gives parents instruction on how to build their child's self-esteem and keep them off drugs, and tutoring services for children who are suffering academically.
"It's a way to deliver in a more efficient way, frankly, what families and children need," Schmoock said.
Although Carnahan strongly promoted the concept in his State-of-the-State address in January, it has not found universal support among Missouri lawmakers.
Rep. Bubs Hohulin, R-Lamar, says the Caring Communities Program is a bad idea. "The reason we've got a lot of problems is because government has gotten involved in the first place," he said.
Hohulin said government should be looking for ways to reduce _ rather than expand _ its involvement in society.
"I don't think it's the government's business to instill values on anybody."
Although a supporter of the program, Rep. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said he's concerned about turning schools into social service centers.
"Schools cannot be responsible for solving all the ills of society. We have enough trouble providing an education in that environment," he said.
Bruce Moe of the Missouri State Teachers Association said he understands the view that schools only should be a place for learning. But, he added, consolidating resources to more efficiently deliver them makes sense.
To provide the services involved in the program, the departments of health, mental health, social services, labor and education would combine efforts. Funds would be redirected from social services to pay for the programs, which means it would not cost tax payers any additional money, proponents say.
"I think it's heading in the right direction," Shields said.
While some Republican lawmakers have expressed concern about the idea, Carnahan used the Republican theme of local control in promoting the Caring Communities program.
Under his plan, local partnerships would determine the services provided at the school sites by tailoring the tasks and emphases needed within that locality.
"They are not cookie cutters," Carnahan said at a recent meeting with reporters. "We're not taking the St. Louis program and putting it in Columbia, Cape and all around the state."
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