Blogger | Children’s Initiatives Fund

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.

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Honoring outstanding child advocates

On Wednesday, Feb. 25, Kansas Action for Children and the Partnership for Early Success hosted the first-ever Symposium for Early Success. More than 200 child advocates and policymakers were in attendance to hear from our keynote speaker, Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, a world-renowned physician and research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

We also presented four Awards for Early Success, honoring outstanding child advocates in Kansas, including health care providers, educators, business leaders and state officials.

We received many outstanding nominations from across the state. Our honorees stood out for their exemplary commitment to improving the lives of Kansas children.

MoserOur “Child Advocate of the Year” in the government official category is Dr. Robert Moser. Dr. Moser was secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment from January 2011 to December 2014. During that time he undertook important work to improve outcomes for young Kansas children. Under his leadership, KDHE launched its first public awareness campaign to reduce infant mortality. KDHE also made changes to improve the Medicaid enrollment process for new mothers. He also served on the Governor’s Task Force on Childhood Poverty.

Dennis Cooley, MDThe “Child Advocate of the Year” in the health care category is Dr. Dennis Cooley. Dr. Cooley is a pediatrician who has practiced in Topeka for 35 years. He has served three terms as president of the Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and. In 2010, the Academy appointed him to its national Committee on Federal Government Affairs. Dr. Cooley is the chair of the Kansas Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality, chair of the Kansas Maternal Child Health Council and a long-time champion for childhood immunization.

20131123011225!Westar-logoThe “Child Advocate of the Year” in the business leader category is Westar Energy. Westar is honored for setting an example of business sector leadership in preventing child maltreatment. Westar has become an ambassador for safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Westar also has joined forces with the Kansas Power of the Positive, the collective effort to reduce the number of children exposed to adverse childhood experiences.

We received several outstanding nominations in the early childhood educator category. We cannot name the winner without first recognizing some worthy contenders.

Deanna Berry was nominated for her tireless advocacy efforts on behalf of young children and for her work knitting together programs and partnerships to serve the children of southwest Kansas.

Shanna Russell was nominated for her hard work building a safe, nurturing environment for young children in the Pine Ridge community of Topeka.

Dawn Chandler was nominated for the impact she’s made on early childhood education in North Central Kansas by sharing her expertise and supporting the families of children with social-emotional needs. All of these women should be proud of what they have accomplished this year on behalf of Kansas kids.

Villalba, EmyriaOur “Child Advocate of the Year” in the early childhood educator category is Emyria Villalba. Emyria is a long-time educator at the Family Resource Center in Pittsburg. She moved to the United States from Colombia, where she was a well-respected elementary school principal. Although English was not her first language, her expertise and dedication to young children translated into an exemplary career. She started in the infant room at the Family Resource Center and began a 14 ½ year quest for self-improvement that led her to earn her Child Development Associate credential; become lead teacher in her classroom; study infant development; and volunteer to help start a community health center. In May, Emyria is retiring.

We all have a vested interest in how Kansas children are faring today and what lies ahead tomorrow. As we look into the next decade, the foundation on which early childhood programs in Kansas rests is shaky. The Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund and the Children’s Initiatives Fund support the majority of early childhood programs in our state, however, just last month, lawmakers voted to sweep $12 million from the KEY Fund, leaving it nearly empty. Childhood is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and kids shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of tax cuts and gaps in the state budget. We’ll continue to stand up for Kansas children, and with supporters like those who attended our Symposium, we can help to protect these important children’s programs.

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No do overs for Kansas children

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO
Resolving the fiscal crisis our state is facing won’t be child’s play. State legislators have their work cut out for them. And, unfortunately, for today’s Kansas children there will be no do overs if policymakers don’t make choices that put their needs first.

As I listened to Gov. Brownback’s State of the State address, I was struck by three key words that I hope policymakers will embrace as they consider how to move forward.

According to Gov. Brownback, “It requires the courage to face our challenges head-on and find solutions that work for Kansans.” I couldn’t agree more, and I hope that policymakers will have the courage to acknowledge that the “great experiment” hasn’t produced the desired results and reverse course before it is too late for an entire generation of Kansas children. Today’s young children cannot afford for the state to have inadequate revenue to ensure high-quality educational experiences beginning in the early years, access to health care and access to other economic supports for our low-income working families.

The governor also acknowledged, “Kansans are sensible, decent, compassionate, thoughtful people.” I am a native Kansan and his words resonated with me. I simply don’t believe that Kansans want tax policies that short-circuit investments in the next generation. Compassion for our state’s children – particularly our youngest children and our children growing up in poor families – means policymakers will have to take a hard look at what the “march to zero” is really costing us.

Near the end of his address, the governor said, “So let us be wise and loving in how we serve the people particularly those in the greatest need at the time of their greatest need.” There is no time of greater need than childhood. It is a once in a lifetime window of opportunity. Kansas children get one opportunity to put the building blocks in place that will allow them to maximize their potential and their contribution to our state.

Let’s not just hope that legislators do the right thing for our children. Together, let’s call on Kansas policymakers to demonstrate their courage, compassion and wisdom in the choices they make this legislative session.

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning, Economic security, Kansas Legislature, Shannon Cotsoradis | Tagged | Leave a comment

Making Kansas KIDS COUNT in the legislative session

By Hilary Gee
Director of Health Policy

The 2015 Kansas legislative session begins next week on Jan. 12. Lawmakers from across the state work for roughly 90 days to pass laws and finalize the state’s budget. During the legislative session, from January through May, KAC staff members are at the Statehouse and talking to legislators about the impact of state policies on Kansas kids and families.

At KAC, the data from KIDS COUNT is the foundation for our policy work. This year, after analyzing the health, education and economic security status of Kansas kids and families, we established three policy priorities:

1. Establish Registered Dental Practitioners: A gap in the dental workforce leaves 95 of Kansas’ 105 counties without enough dental providers. The Registered Dental Practitioner model is a cost-effective and business-minded solution to this problem. By utilizing RDPs, we can grow businesses, ensure that all Kansans have access to regular dental care and save money. Mid-level providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners have already helped address the medical workforce shortage, and RDPs will do the same for the dental work force.

2. Restore the Children’s Initiatives Fund: Nearly a decade ago, Kansas lawmakers made a commitment to our state’s future prosperity by establishing the Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF). CIF dollars support quality early care and education programs that are making a difference in the lives or our youngest citizens and in the livelihood of our state. However, state investments in early childhood have remained flat in recent years, resulting in an erosion of programs and services. For the well-being of the next generation, the strength of the future Kansas workforce and the most effective use of state dollars, this trend must not continue.

3. Improve Child Care Assistance Policy: Child Care Assistance Policy plays the dual role of improving the quality of care for young children and helping to keep low-income parents working. Child Care Assistance, also known as the Child Care Subsidy, is a federal program administered by the state. The 2014 reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant, the major source of funding for Child Care Assistance, requires a number of updates to state administrative policies. The new requirements provide an opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the current Kansas Child Care Assistance structure.

As the state is confronted by growing budget shortfalls, we’ll be speaking up for Kansas kids. To get updates and learn how you can help, sign up for legislative updates. Also, be sure to follow @KansasAction on Twitter—we’ll be tweeting out KIDS COUNT facts each day of the 90-day legislative session.

Posted in Child Care, Child health, Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning, Economic security, Kansas Dental Project, Kansas Legislature, KIDS COUNT | Leave a comment

Telling our story

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting to the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City’s Board of Directors about the work of Kansas Action for Children. The Foundation has supported KAC’s work for several years, but this was my first in-person opportunity to tell our story.

As an advocacy organization, telling our story can be challenging. Supporting advocates simply isn’t as appealing or gratifying as giving to organizations that provide direct services to children and families in need. Fortunately, the Foundation helped us tell our story to its board and others that want to learn more about our work by producing a short video about KAC.

Rather than recounting our history and summarizing the many projects and policy opportunities we are focused on, I decided to highlight a few key numbers that capture the breadth and depth of our work.

95: That’s the number of counties in Kansas that don’t have enough dental providers to meet their residents’ needs. KAC is home to the Kansas Dental Project, which is working to bring mid-level providers to the Kansas dental team. The Kansas Dental Project is a great example of KAC’s work on behalf of children and families and our efforts to build consensus around a controversial policy issue. In fact, since the project’s inception more than 50 organizations have joined the KDP coalition.

245: That’s the millions of dollars that should be in the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund, which supports the majority of early care and education programs in our state. Despite our success in maintaining funding levels for early education, policymakers have repeatedly raided the endowment for other purposes. This year, however, we mobilized our partners and helped to secure a governor’s veto of a $5 million transfer from the endowment to the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

252: That’s the number of media mentions KAC received in the past year. We believe that shaping policy that puts children first begins with a public dialogue about what children and families need. As an independent voice – KAC accepts no state or federal monies – KAC is positioned to provide nonpartisan information and frankly discuss child well-being.

10,830: That’s the dollar amount we have spent to achieve government transparency this year. Effectively speaking on behalf of children and families begins with reliable information and data, which often needs to be secured from state agencies. When it’s necessary, we are investing our financial resources in getting that information and data. Transparency also means shining a light on issues that otherwise might fly under the radar. We have worked to lift up issues like growth in childhood poverty and the impact of administrative policy changes on poor children and families.

These numbers underscore why it is difficult to tell our story. I can’t tell you how many children we served or even clearly quantify the impact of our work. As an organization that is something we will always have to wrestle with. But I hope what is clear is how hard we are working every day to make Kansas the best place to live, work and raise a family.

Posted in Child health, Children's Initiatives Fund, Economic security, Kansas Dental Project, Kansas Legislature, Shannon Cotsoradis | Tagged , | Leave a comment

We can do better for Kansas kids

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO
When I reflect on the 2014 session of the Kansas Legislature, I can’t get past my disappointment. I am not just disappointed in the outcome for Kansas children and their families, I am disappointed in the dialogue or, should I say, the lack of one about what they need. When I boil it down, this is what really bothers me:

Policymakers missed opportunities to make Kansas a better place to grow up and a better place to raise a family. While there are many examples of missed opportunities this legislative session, the failure of the Kansas Legislature to give the addition of mid-level dental providers to the dental team serious consideration is among the most unfortunate. Ninety-five counties in Kansas don’t have enough dentists to meet the needs of their population, yet this policy solution will have to wait yet another year to get the attention it deserves.

Policymakers put politics ahead of good policy. There is no better example of politics getting in the way of good policy than Senate Bill 259, legislation that would have allowed information already collected by the State Child Death Review Board to be used for public health purposes. Despite a child death rate that exceeds that national average, no opposition to the legislation and the passage of a similar bill in the Kansas House 123-0, the legislation never made it to the Senate floor for a debate. Politics got in the way, and Kansas kids will die needlessly as a result.

Many vulnerable Kansans were without a voice in the process. Many constituencies likely feel they were left without a voice in the process this year, but one didn’t have to observe for long to realize that poor families with children were among the least represented. And, while many of the changes that impact our poorest families, like redirecting Temporary Assistance to Needy Families dollars for other purposes and administrative policy changes that make it harder for poor families to get and keep their benefits, occurred outside of the legislative process, they occurred on legislators’ watch. Instead of stepping in to protect our most fragile families, policymakers are washing their hands of the changes that are occurring.

Advocates were without all the information they needed to get the job done. No place has the lack of access to information been more apparent than the Children’s Initiatives Fund. In fact, getting access to the information has required filing a petition in Shawnee County District Court to secure the open records necessary to prevent another raid on tobacco settlement dollars, 100 percent of which were promised to Kansas children when the fund was established. Unfortunately, we were unable to secure the records in time, and a backroom deal led legislators to take $5 million promised to children for the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Fortunately, there was one bright spot this legislative session. Gov. Sam Brownback responded to pressure from advocates, parents and early childhood educators and vetoed the sweep of the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund.

The legislature may have adjourned, but at KAC we are already thinking about how we can shape policy next year that puts children first. We hope, despite the temptation to throw up your hands in frustration, you will help us ensure that policymakers do better for Kansas kids in the future.

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning, Economic security, Kansas Legislature | Tagged | Leave a comment

Gov. Brownback: Veto sweep of funds for Kansas children

By April Holman
Executive Director of the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness
Kansas advocates for early care and education have been on a roller coaster in recent years. In what has become a familiar pattern, the governor announces support for a new early childhood initiative, filling the advocacy community with cautious optimism, only to have our hopes dashed when more information is known about the proposal and lawmakers fail to lend their support.

First came the Reading Roadmap proposal with funding for a new vaguely defined program at the same time the Kansas Early Head Start Program was slated for elimination. Then came the proposal to require mandatory third-grade retention for students not reaching reading proficiency. Most recently the governor proposed phasing in funding for all-day kindergarten in Kansas public schools. In each case the governor failed to gain support of lawmakers in the House and Senate and didn’t even receive wide-spread support from the advocacy community until the all-day kindergarten proposal this year.

It seems clear that the governor wants to leave his mark on early care and education policy. He has repeatedly expressed his support for early investments starting with the inclusion of both reducing childhood poverty and increasing fourth-grade reading proficiency in his policy roadmap for Kansas. The problem has been in identifying the right policy and winning the support of his colleagues in the Statehouse.

What will be the governor’s legacy for our youngest and most vulnerable Kansans in the end? Will he be the one who said the right things but couldn’t move meaningful policy to support young children in our state or will he improve the lives and future prosperity of young Kansans? Using his line-item veto on the sweep of $5 million from children’s programs to support the Kansas Bioscience Authority would be a good first step toward a legacy of true support for Kansas children.

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Guest post: Working toward a shared goal on early childhood education

By Janice Smith
Executive Director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund

Today marks three months I have been serving Kansas as the executive director of the Children’s Cabinet, and my colleagues Jane Weiler and Dyogga Adegbore claim we have all been working at warp speed! It is a privilege to work for the Cabinet because we are able to think about and fund strategies that are evidence-based, innovative and entrepreneurial. It is an honor to participate in this process where the work is about putting science into practice and to work with Kansans who are passionate about pushing change that benefits our youngest citizens and their families.

I am so lucky that I get the opportunity to work with savvy state colleagues from the Kansas Department of Education, Department of Children and Families, and Kansas Department of Health and Environment, who on a daily basis show their dedication to the children and families of Kansas.

And of course, I get to work with grantees who are our change agents. They promote change through the use of effective and essential programming within our communities. I have great respect for their work, and it is an honor to grow in my new responsibilities as they make a difference in the lives of many.

As part of our work this first quarter, we have developed and articulated a strategic framework, which has been named the “Blueprint for Early Childhood.” It is intended to be used by the Cabinet to align its vision with the Children’s Initiatives Fund investment portfolio, and we plan to use it to monitor progress toward goals.

In addition to developing the blueprint, the Cabinet has successfully launched a new common measures system statewide. Our Early Childhood Block Grant grantees are moving through a pilot; this fall will be engaged in a field test phase, and then we plan to go “live” in 2015. Grantees will contribute to our state story of success through the use of common measures across programs and we will be able to demonstrate on the state level how investments at the local level impact early learners and their families’ lives. Additional CIF funded programs will be included in this process once we have our “lessons learned” in 2014 and 2015.

I believe the blueprint will be essential to our state’s success in early childhood services and systems. Moving the needle on healthy development, strong families and early learning will require continued creative community collaborations across sectors, involving multiple partners working toward a shared vision of high-quality, accessible, affordable programs for young children and families. I know we can do this! We have all of the right people, at the right time—we just need to figure out how to work together toward our common goals.

I look forward to working with all folks interested in moving this agenda forward and want to thank all of you in advance for your support in this endeavor.

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What does transparency really cost?

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO

Our special report, “The Arbitration Settlement: What Will it Mean for Kansas Children?,” provides valuable insight into the implications of Kansas’ decision to settle its long-standing dispute with tobacco companies over the state’s enforcement of the original tobacco master settlement agreement. The information in the report was secured through a series of Kansas Open Records Act requests KAC filed to compel the release of documents regarding the settlement.

While Kansas Action for Children has obtained a significant amount of information since filing our first KORA request in May 2013, several questions remain unanswered. This process underscores the challenges any organization or private citizen will face if they attempt to exercise their right to access documents that should be readily available to the public. In this case, there was a clear and compelling public interest, and yet it has taken countless hours and thousands of dollars to secure the documents needed. It boils down to this:

Transparency is not free. Securing the requested documents regarding the tobacco arbitration settlement has not only cost KAC money, it has cost Kansas children opportunity. Pursuing transparency has cost more than $5,000 in legal fees, document preparation fees and filing fees. More importantly, the countless hours that have been spent pursuing documents that should have been readily available for public inspection have diverted our organizational resources away from other policy issues that impact Kansas children and their families.

Transparency is not easy. When our original request for information did not receive a timely response, we were forced to figure out how to navigate what should be an easy process. That meant securing legal counsel, filing a petition in district court and filing a series of increasingly specific open record requests. Achieving transparency is like a game of cat and mouse—and it certainly doesn’t take place on a level playing field.

Transparency delayed is transparency denied. When we decided to pursue this course of action, I never imagined that it would take 10 months to secure the documents we need to determine the impact of a public settlement on Kansas children. Even with the documents in hand, I don’t feel that we have achieved transparency. During the many months that have passed, policy choices have been made that cannot be reversed, and they have been made without all the facts.

Transparency is an ideal policymakers talk about, but I have learned that the process for achieving transparency is less than ideal. And, in this case, it is especially troubling because the delay in receiving information related to the arbitration settlement will impact hundreds of thousands of Kansas children and their families for years to come.

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Who will lead the way for poor children in Kansas?

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO

In a recent interview with Tim Carpenter, a reporter with the Topeka Capital-Journal, I commented on my surprise about the inclusion of reducing childhood poverty in Gov. Sam Brownback’s Roadmap for Kansas. While a laudable goal that deserves the governor’s attention and the attention of Kansans from all walks of life, it is a goal that – from the beginning – was likely to become an unfulfilled campaign promise regardless of who was doing the promise-making. Reducing childhood poverty is not a problem that lends itself to a political life cycle. Reducing childhood poverty is one of the most complex civic challenges we face as a state and as a nation.

While it wasn’t realistic to expect the percent of children living in poverty to consistently trend downward anytime soon as a result of actions taken by the Brownback administration, I did expect the governor to demonstrate his commitment to reducing childhood poverty by prioritizing policies that benefit poor children and their families. Instead, a series of administrative policy changes have been implemented that are making it more difficult for the poorest families with children to access cash assistance, food stamps, and child care assistance. For children living in poverty, these programs are the only buffer between them and life-long consequences as a result of experiencing early or prolonged deprivation.

Administrative policy changes that exacerbate the challenges facing poor families with children have been coupled with legislative initiatives that will push more families with children into poverty including the repeated proposed reduction and/or elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a program recognized as the single most effective tool for lifting families out of poverty. Even worse, we have short-circuited programs, by reducing the funding available, that are designed to help children who are growing up in poor families access technical training or attend a community college or four-year institution of higher learning. Programs that serve some of our youngest and poorest children, including Kansas Early Head Start and the Children’s Initiatives Fund, have also repeatedly come under attack.

The inability to reduce childhood poverty during the course of a single administration was to be expected, although it is a promise Gov. Brownback willingly made to Kansans. More important in evaluating whether the governor has realized his commitment to Kansas children growing up in poverty is taking a close look at the actions he has taken or, in some cases, not taken during his administration.

As the governor heads into the final year of his term, Kansans are counting on him to lead the way on behalf of the more than 130,000 children that are growing up in poverty today because, for them, there will be no do over. While it is unlikely that trend data will demonstrate the governor has had a meaningful impact on reducing childhood poverty during his administration, he still has the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to children growing up in poor families with his actions before his Roadmap comes to an end.

Posted in Child Poverty, Children's Initiatives Fund, Economic security, Shannon Cotsoradis | Tagged | Leave a comment