Author Archives: Haley

ACTION ALERT: Raising the bar, setting a deadline.

Did you hear the news?! 

Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that support for Kansas public schools is unconstitutionally low and the legislature must increase funding by June 30th. This has KAC like:

Kansas’ premier early learning system cannot set the trajectory for a child’s life if K-12 schools lack the resources to build on the first five years of development. The ruling is a victory for us all. 

But the court’s decision underscores another critical problem: Kansas is broke. Everything we care about (early childhood and K-12 alike) remains at risk if Governor Brownback’s failed tax experiment continues.

Momentum for comprehensive tax reform is growing, but the court order changes the game because it raises the bar and sets a deadline. “Scraping by” every year is no longer acceptable. Lawmakers must now aim higher and restore Kansas’ dismal school funding levels with the urgency it deserves.

There are still several hurdles to clear. We have a lot to do as the legislature returns from their mid-session recess. Click here to help right now. The process could move very quickly, but we can have a big impact if we start taking action right now.

Your response to previous action alerts was remarkable. We can’t let up now, and we need your help (even if you’ve contacted your legislators before, they need to understand how important this is to you and that you’re still engaged).

Can you do it?

Good! Us too.

(One more time: take action here.)

Posted in Action Alert, Early learning, Kansas Legislature | Leave a comment

Helping Kansas kids “soar”

By Annie McKay
KAC President and CEO

Today, bi-partisan leaders of the Kansas Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee introduced a new proposal to tackle unintended consequences created by welfare restrictions enacted in 2015 and 2016. The “SOAR” Act (Strategic Opportunities to Achieve Results) offers a handful of commonsense ideas, but two components really excite us at Kansas Action for Children:

•Exempts parents attending school or work training from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) strict hourly work requirements and a 24-month lifetime limit for child care assistance eligibility. This means Kansas moms and dads can focus on their education with the peace of mind that their children have access to child care – even if their program exceeds 24-months.

•Exempts single mothers of infants from TANF work requirements for 12 months after giving birth, protecting the health of both mom and baby while saving Kansas thousands in costly infant child care assistance.

This is really good policy.

Although the “HOPE” Acts may have been well intentioned, political eagerness to enact welfare restrictions on adults overshadowed the “trickle down” consequences for children.

The numbers speak for themselves:

  • Ten years ago, in 2007, Kansas had 100,000 poor kids. In 2015 (the most recent data available), there were 122,000 poor kids – an increase of 22 percent.
  • During that same time period, more than 18,000 Kansas children lost access to cash assistance (from an average of 26,633 children per month in 2007 to 8,621 children in December 2016 – a 67.6 percent decrease). The Kansas Department for Children and Families makes no data available to monitor how children losing those services fare afterwards.
  • According to the most recent federal data, only 10.6% of TANF families’ (ie, families with children) left the program because the family found employment. Those who did report employment earned an average of just $13,524 annually. Furthermore, Kansas’ own data shows that 60% of parents who leave TANF are unemployed just a few months later (See page 233). Without a safety net, these children could potentially be left in households with zero income.

The SOAR Act puts Kansas parents in a much more strategic position to permanently address these circumstances. Self-reliance requires opportunity. Kansas not only ranked 7th worst in job growth in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. Parents must acquire training and education to truly move ahead, but they cannot pursue those opportunities without child care. Lifting restrictions on child care assistance for these moms and dads is a smart, two-generational approach to reducing poverty.

Secondly, the SOAR Act confronts a serious problem with the current system by acknowledging the critical and costly needs of Kansas babies. Infancy is a particularly crucial time in a child’s development that requires stability and security. No baby born in our state should be denied this just because a family lives in poverty. Additionally, infant care is incredibly expensive and beyond the reach of low-income families who don’t have assistance. Maternity leave and child care assistance will not only create stronger families, it’s a much more cost effective option for the state.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Kansan who supports the continued suffering of our state’s most vulnerable children. The SOAR Act is about those children – babies, toddlers and little kids – and helping improve the conditions under which they grow so they can reach higher and achieve more later in life.

Read the bill here.

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Posted in Child Care, Child Poverty, Economic security | Leave a comment

Child Care Changes Ahead

By Amanda Gress
Director of Government Relations

In 2014, Congress passed landmark legislation to improve and expand high-quality child care. It was a really big deal.

Afterward, two national child policy experts came to Kansas to talk to stakeholders about the new law. They challenged us to “envision Kansas’ ideal child care system.”

I remember writing that down and thinking, “Wow. What an opportunity!”

However, passing a law is just the first step of turning a vision into reality. After the President signed this game-changing legislation, the federal Office of Child Care then had to develop the details for implementing it (wonky people refer to these details as the “final rule”). It was a lengthy process. Finally, after two years of working with stakeholders, the Office of Child Care released the final rule on September 23rd. If you want to read it, it’s here (full disclosure, it is over 600 pages long… I’m still working on it).

Here’s why we’re so excited at KAC:

This federal policy could bring over $50 million to Kansas for child care. Child care assistance helps all Kansas children afford the care they need to nurture their growing brains while their parents work. Under the new federal law, once children become eligible for assistance, they must be able to receive it for a full year – even if a parent starts earning more money or temporarily loses a job. This will make it much easier for low-income Kansas families who need child care to focus on what really matters – making ends meet and helping their children thrive – instead of trying to navigate unnecessary, burdensome, bureaucratic requirements. Kansas has some work to do on this front; the new law sets the stage for a critical review of our current state policies.

Think about it. Kids need as much stability and routine as possible from the moment they’re born. We’d never even consider pulling a child out of a kindergarten class just because his or her parents changed jobs. Why would we make a three-year-old change child care when his or her parent discovers that their boss dropped the number of hours they can work, or when their family hits a “lifetime limit” of assistance that had enabled them to go back to school themselves? The new law will help us build a system where young children can form relationships and routines and thrive in stable child care environments.

The implementation process for this new legislation is not quite over. Now that the final rule has been released, state officials must seek public input about the implications of new regulatory changes.

That’s where you come in. Envisioning our ideal Kansas child care system is a team effort, and any stakeholder has the opportunity to make their voice heard in the next phase of the advocacy process. You can review the proposed changes to state child care regulations at http://www.kdheks.gov/bcclr/ccdbg.htm and send your comments on what you like and what you’d like to see changed:

Contact:  Dorothy Tenney
Email:  dtenney@kdheks.gov
Phone:  785-296-1270
Fax:  785-559-4244

The state will take all your comments into consideration as they craft final regulations for child care providers. I’ve already marked my calendar for the public hearing. It’s December 20, at 1:00 p.m. in the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka. I hope to see you there!

Posted in Child Care, Early learning | Leave a comment

Back to School: Nourishing Brains and Bellies

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By Jake Frydman
Outreach Specialist

As Kansas children head back to school, they return to an environment designed to foster growth in their developing brains. Many kids, however, also look forward to the return of a different kind of nourishment that is far too often absent over the summer months. The kind of nourishment for growing bodies that comes from regular, healthy meals at breakfast and lunch.

Recognizing the vital importance of this secondary function of Kansas schools for thousands of Kansas children and families, Kansas Action for Children has partnered with the Food Research & Action Center and Kansas Appleseed in an effort to increase access to school breakfast and lunch for Kansas kids.

To achieve this goal, we have published and promoted materials to inform Superintendents across Kansas about programs and opportunities available to schools and school districts that help ensure all Kansas children get the healthy meals they need to be successful in the classroom.

Programs like Breakfast in the Classroom encourage schools to offer breakfast during the first class of the day, rather than before school. Serving breakfast before the bell means many students who rely on busses or long walks are often unable to arrive in time for the most important meal of the day.

The Community Eligibility Provision helps address the issue of unfiled paperwork that often stands between a hungry kid and a hot meal at lunch. When adopted, this provision allows schools with a large percentage of children on free and reduced lunch status to offer free lunch to all students.

Programs such as these improve the Kansas school experience for everyone. No hungry kids means fewer distractions in the classroom, better attendance, improved performance, and an enriched learning experience for all.

If you want to learn more about how to get these programs implemented at your school, please contact us at kac@kac.org, because even one hungry kid in Kansas is one too many.

Posted in Child health, Nutrition | Leave a comment

Tax Policy, Budget Cuts Pose Health Risk to Kansas Children

By Amanda Gress
Director of Government Relations

Kansas policymakers’ refusal to revisit deep income tax cuts has once again harmed the health of Kansas children. In May, Governor Brownback announced a 4% reduction in reimbursement rates for KanCare, the state’s managed-care Medicaid program. These choices will ultimately make it more difficult for Kansas children covered by KanCare to go to the doctor and grow up healthy.

One in three Kansas children is covered by KanCare, and weakening the program jeopardizes the well-being of the 230,000 children who depend on it for medical coverage. Further reducing provider reimbursement may dissuade medical providers from serving patients with KanCare insurance. This may make it more difficult or even impossible for children insured by KanCare to find a doctor or a dentist, even as new federal guidelines direct states to ensure adequate provider networks for managed-care Medicaid programs.

These budget cuts could not come at a worse time for young Kansans. For the second year in a row Kansas restricted eligibility for food assistance and cash assistance, essential services that help families afford the basics children need to grow up healthy. Budget pressures have forced schools and local governments to cut back on school nurses and public health services. Administrative problems like glitches in the state’s new automated eligibility system and a backlog of applications plague the state’s KanCare program.

The decision to reduce reimbursement carries significant fiscal consequences. As a result of last month’s cut, Kansas will lose approximately $72 million in federal funds. The administration also cut $378,000 from the state’s safety net clinics, which fill gaps in the KanCare provider network and provide medical care to the uninsured.

Instead of weakening health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of Kansas children, Kansas policymakers could follow the lead of thirty-one other states and expand Medicaid. KanCare expansion would be a significant step forward in reaching uninsured Kansas children, who are more likely to be insured if their parents are insured. It would also grow businesses, support rural hospitals, and cover 150,000 Kansans who fall into the coverage gap. To date, Kansas’s refusal to consider KanCare expansion has cost the state more than $1.3 billion dollars in federal funds. Additional resources would help address KanCare’s existing challenges while generating revenue and budget savings, as it has in other states.

Kansas cannot continue to sacrifice the health of our children for an unsustainable tax policy. Building a strong health care system is a critical investment in our state’s future. Ensuring our youngest Kansans receive medical care prepares them to excel in school, grow up healthy, and succeed in the workforce. Weakening KanCare is a temporary budget band-aid that harms an entire generation of Kansas children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Welfare Restrictions vs. Reality: Why Kansas kids need a strong safety net

By Annie McKay
KAC President & CEO

Kansans are folks who respect hard work. Our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality grew from our deep pioneer roots. It is both a quintessentially Kansan value and the crux of the American Dream.

Unfortunately, the notion that Kansans receiving help from the government do not work hard has become a common but untrue stereotype, and this stigma has grown dangerously toxic.

In recent years, state policymakers have championed some of the most punitive and problematic welfare policies in the country. Their most alarming reforms hurt a critical program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF is designed to help children living in extremely difficult circumstances. It provides a small amount of cash to Kansas’ most desperately impoverished moms and dads so they can put dinner on the table, pay an overdue water bill so their kids can bathe, or buy diapers for their baby. TANF is not a frivolous, long-term income source or an excuse for able-bodied adults to avoid work. It is a temporary lifeboat – for families with children – to keep them afloat in their darkest hours of need.

Data shows that a little extra cash can make a long-term difference for families in deep poverty. For an economically fragile family, it only takes one small misfortune – something as trivial as a flat tire or a flu bug – for their entire world to unravel. TANF can mean the difference between having a place to live and being evicted, keeping a job and getting fired, or feeding their children and sending them to bed hungry.

Everyone agrees that self-reliance is the best-case scenario for all Kansans. But self-reliance requires economic opportunity. Kansas not only ranked 7th worst in job growth in 2015, the fastest-growing jobs did not pay enough to keep a family of three out of poverty. The restrictions Gov. Brownback put on TANF don’t create a single new job, or raise a single Kansan’s salary, but they do limit families’ ability to keep their heads above water as they’re drowning under bills.

The success of Gov. Brownback’s welfare reforms should be measured by the number of Kansas families who leave the program because they find work that allows them to afford basic necessities like rent, utilities, food, and medical bills. Federal data shows less than 10 percent of Kansas families receiving TANF leave the program for this reason. Rather, most people leave because new restrictions forced them off. The state makes no data available to monitor how children losing those services fare afterwards. This is where the disconnect between welfare restrictions and reality lies. What hope do we offer Kansas children by letting them go hungry when their parents can’t find good-paying jobs?

Kansans value hard work and self-reliance, but they also value their neighbors, and caring for those less fortunate, especially children. Ensuring kids have basic necessities during their most critical years of development through TANF gives them a fighting chance to break the cycle of poverty that makes welfare necessary in the first place.

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Posted in Child Poverty, Economic security | Leave a comment

No regrets.

By Shannon Cotsoradis
KAC President & CEO

 

Few tasks are quite as daunting as writing a parting blog after nearly two decades at an organization. But on a recent visit to an early learning center in Seattle, I found my inspiration in a quote on the back of a bookmark that was a gift from one of the center’s children. The quote from Angela Schwindt read, “While we try to teach children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

While humbling things have been said in recent weeks about the legacy I am leaving for Kansas children, the reality is the children of Kansas have given me a priceless gift by allowing me to speak on their behalf. I have learned many important life lessons in this role that I will always carry with me. So, as I depart, I want to share my three most important lessons – underscored by the bitter battle to save the Children’s Initiatives Fund this legislative session – with my colleagues in the advocacy community and the friends of Kansas Action for Children.

First, speak the truth. When policy decisions hurt the most vulnerable among us we can’t simply stand idly by. As advocates, we have a responsibility to stand up and clearly speak to the consequences. Say it repeatedly to anyone who will listen. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming someone else will do it. They won’t. And while I wish I could say don’t worry about retaliation, I can’t. Do it anyway.

Second, being respected is a lot more important than being popular. I can look back at every choice I made, many of which were unpopular, and rest assured that I did the best I could for Kansas kids. I don’t think every choice was the right one. I learned from my mistakes. And, at the end of the day, I believe many of the people who didn’t like me still respected my work. I can live with that.

Lastly, always put the mission of the organization first. When faced with the most difficult decisions, I focused on just one thing: the mission of the organization. I worked hard not to let the political or personal consequences creep into my decision making. I committed to being the nonpartisan voice for hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would be without a voice in the process. I woke up every morning understanding the commitment I made and stakes for Kansas children and their families.

The work kept me awake many nights, but because I lived these lessons every day I am leaving Kansas Action for Children with no regrets and with a better understanding of what life is all about.
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We #SavedTheCIF in the Kansas budget. Here are the Top 10 reasons it matters.

10. Because children are precious (and adorable), and they’re counting on us.

The CIF supports programs that promote the health and well-being of Kansas children, and is one of the most impactful legacies in the state.

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9. Because a treasure hunt is always easier with a map.

Children are valuable, but the path to their success isn’t always easy. When parents are equipped with trusted resources, kids grow up healthier and safer.

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8. Because for kids, opportunity is like milk – the more they have, the stronger they grow.

CIF-funded programs that improve early learning environments, such as the quality of child care, prepare Kansas children for future success.

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7. Because one apple seed can grow an entire tree.

Early intervention programs protect against circumstances that can steal a child’s potential now and spoil future opportunities.

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6. Because imagine this: Dennis the Menace as an adult.

Children who participate in high-quality early learning programs – like those funded by the CIF – are less likely to engage in destructive behavior as adults.

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5. Because the early bird gets the worm.

Stimulating and engaging early childhood programs help children start school ready to learn and are more likely to succeed throughout school and in life.

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4. Because early childhood research is solid (unlike Jell-O).

Ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs during the first five years of life, and instructive stimulation before kindergarten is crucial.

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3. Because parents are a child’s most important teachers.

CIF-funded programs are as beneficial to parents as they are to children. They support a parent’s role in promoting school readiness and healthy development of children during their critical early years of life.

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2. Because we shouldn’t steal from kids and babies.

Proposed changes to the CIF would have made programs more susceptible to budget sweeps, eliminating existing protections for Kansas’ youngest citizens.

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1. Because we all win.

The CIF is building a stronger foundation for children and families today, which creates a better, more prosperous Kansas tomorrow.

via GIPHY

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Posted in Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning, Kansas Legislature | Leave a comment

GUEST BLOG: Preschool funding

By John Schmader
Retired brigadier general with the U.S. Army

As a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, I know well about investments in our nation’s security. I think Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposed budget jeopardizes one of the most critical investments for our state and country’s future: early childhood education.

In Kansas, seven out of 10 young adults ages 17 to 24 are not eligible to serve in the military. Poor education — failing to graduate from high school — is a leading disqualifier.

Research highlighted by the national security organization Mission: Readiness demonstrates that high-quality early education is a proven way to address academic underachievement. The governor’s budget, however, would dissolve funding dedicated to early childhood programs.

Private preschool in Kansas costs nearly $8,000 a year. This is more than many families can afford at a time when nearly 60 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool, which is below the national average.

I strongly urge the state Legislature to reject the governor’s budget recommendation. We must ensure early childhood funding remains intact, giving children a greater chance to be successful in life and the opportunity to serve their nation in uniform, should they so choose.

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Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

GUEST BLOG: Early education a national security issue

By William A. “Art” Bloomer
Retired brigadier general with the U.S. Marine Corps

The military is my life. For 31 years I served active duty in the Marines and have since continued to support our country’s national defense. Over the course of my career, I have flown more than 300 combat missions and participated in the operation to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War, as well as commanding hundreds of honorable Marines.

It may be surprising to learn that, given my history, today I find one of the greatest threats to our security to be a lack of investment in our children in their early years. Quality early childhood education in Kansas is under siege, and it is imperative we fight for it.

I have no doubt that many of you are wondering why a retired general is speaking out about quality early learning. But poor education – failing to graduate from high school – is one of the leading disqualifiers for military service.

In Kansas, 14 percent of high school students fail to graduate on time, making it difficult to join the military without a high school diploma. Even among Kansas young adults who do finish high school, 21 percent of those seeking to enlist cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for math, literacy and problem-solving to join.

These problems are rooted in the earliest years of life. Research shows that quality early childhood education acts as the foundation for math and literacy, as well as developing social skills that enable children to work well with others and function as part of a team.

A study highlighted by the Mission: Readiness military leaders group says that by age 3, a child’s brain has reached 85 percent of its adult weight and as early as 9 months old, learning gaps begin to distinguish between advantaged and disadvantaged children, with disadvantaged children starting kindergarten as much as a year and a half behind their peers. Many of these children never catch up, increasing their risk of dropping out of high school and lessening their chances of serving in the military, should they so choose.

Unfortunately, Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a budget that would eliminate Kansas’ primary infrastructure for early childhood education. The budget would dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund, which was dedicated years ago when lawmakers committed to children and the state’s future by promising tobacco settlement funds to the expansion and improvement of quality early learning. As a result, we are on the cusp of losing one of the most valuable resources for ensuring children enter school ready to learn.

To enroll a child in high-quality private preschool costs nearly $8,000 a year, or 20 percent of the income of a moderate salary-level Kansas family. This is far more than many families can afford, and research already shows that nearly 60 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool at all.

The responsibility of safeguarding the futures of Kansas youth now rests on the shoulders of the Legislature. I strongly urge it to reject the budget proposal to dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

The fund not only increases children’s educational success, but also strengthens the future security of our nation.

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Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment