NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services asked for an additional $156 million next fiscal year. It’s well on its way to getting that and more.
“We’re also proposing more than $190 million in additional resources to support the mission at DCS and provide for the safety and well-being of Tennessee children,” Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said at his State of the State address Monday evening.
Lee revealed pieces of his budget plan in the address Monday night before the Dept. of Finance and Administration laid it out in a Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning.
“The DCS commissioner has the most challenging job in state government,” Sen. Page Walley (R-Savannah) said. “[Finance Commissioner Jim Bryson], when you make an error, we make some budget adjustments. When she makes an error, a child dies. So the consequences of getting it right are profound.”
The increased potential spend on DCS follows months of scrutiny after a recent audit found the department failing in several crucial areas.
Democrats said the big numbers are a good start but Lee gave no clear plan for action to follow.
“We think there’s more that can be done. We appreciate the funding that’s going there for the workers, increasing salaries,” House Minority Leader Karen Camper said. “But we did not talk about caseloads.”
Caseloads have been a major issue for the department. When the audit revealed first-year caseworkers were quitting at a rate of 97% in 2021, the department capped those workers’ case numbers at ten.
But that decision still left veteran workers’ caseloads in place.
“You can increase salaries and people are appreciative of that, but the caseload is just so high that it’s still causing problems,” Camper said. “We want to see more of that type of reform.”
DCS Commissioner Margie Quin admitted veterans have been carrying more weight with the reform. But she said it’s necessary because of the extremely high turnover in first-year workers.
“The veterans have certainly toted the line and shared the load,” Quin said. “But when you have a first-year case manager that gets out of training and they have 30 or 40 cases dumped on them and they quit that same week, we’re just spinning our wheels. So we had to change that formula.”
DCS is slated to give more of a look at how it will spend its budget at hearings starting next week.
Furthermore, this isn’t the final budget. The governor’s proposal has to go through several other committees and the General Assembly before it’s officially finalized.