Chattanooga City Council debates practicality of Baby College

Chattanooga City Council debates practicality of Baby College

June 4th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

FUNDING

What local agencies had city funding cut or significantly increased:

Agency/ Cut or Increase Total funding from the city:

• Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise/ cut $195,000/ $705,000

• Homeless Healthcare Center/ cut $13,300/ $0

• Chattanooga Area Urban League/ increased $60,000/$100,000

• Children's Advocacy Center/ increased $30,000/$60,000

• Chattanooga History Center/ cut $15,200/ $0

• Enterprise South Nature Park/ increased $69,905/ $771,878

• Choose Chattanooga/cut $16,900/ $0

• Signal Centers/ increased $50,000/ $80,000

• Orange Grove/ increased $68,472/$98,472

What agencies received city funding for the first time:

• Hope for the Inner City: $75,000

• Girls, Inc.: $30,000

• Greater Chattanooga Sports & Events: $100,000

• Chattanooga Room in the Inn: $25,000

• LaPaz Chattanooga: $50,000

Talks over whether Chattanooga should fund parenting classes for expecting parents -- a key initiative next year for Mayor Andy Berke -- sparked debate at Tuesday's budget hearing.

Several council members wanted to know if starting a Baby College for $250,00 is the best use of tax dollars and whether it duplicates services already provided in the community.

The questions turned philosophical when Council Chairman Chip Henderson asked if the Baby College could fix deep-seated problems in the community, such as low reading scores for children.

"Do we actually think this is the solution to get everybody ready for learning?" Henderson asked.

Berke's chief policy adviser Stacy Richardson responded.

"Your question is really complicated," she told Henderson. "Is this the magic bullet? We don't think so. But it's meant to get us in the right direction."

Berke's staff said the new program is aimed at teaching parents how to care best for their zero- to three-year-old children with a focus on health and preparing children to learn at a young age.

Several council members said the plan is a good one while others questioned whether Hamilton County would step in.

Council members took some issue with a nearly $200,000 cut to Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a nonprofit agency that helps build housing in neighborhoods and provides financial counseling to residents.

"Is this need still going to be filled?" Councilman Yusuf Hakeem asked.

Deputy Chief of Operations Brent Goldberg said cuts to CNE's funding were made because some of its budget requests didn't rank as high as other agencies'. He said Berke's newly created economics department can address some of the needs, but he didn't give any specifics.

The mayor's office also proposed funding new agencies such as Hope for the Inner City with $75,000 to introduce an ex-offenders work program and $30,000 to Girls, Inc. to introduce a literacy program at some of the city's youth and family development centers.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.