Blogger | Early learning

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

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 and send your comments on what you like and what you’d like to see changed:

Contact:  Dorothy Tenney
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

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.


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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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

Child care is early education

By Amanda Gress
KAC Director of Research & Analysis

After decades of research concluding that early education makes a tremendous difference in a child’s life, individuals across the political spectrum finally acknowledge the importance of early education.

Child care, on the other hand, is often viewed separately. People tend to mistake it for babysitting – a safe space for children while parents work. The truth is high quality child care IS early education.

Let me share my thinking:

Child care prepares young children to succeed in school and in life. It doesn’t just ensure parents can go to work – it is one of the first early learning environments in an infant’s or a toddler’s life. Stimulating, engaging, high-quality child care makes children more likely to succeed once they enter school. They’re also more likely to find good jobs and provide for their own families when they’re adults.

Kansas kids receive child care in four types of settings:

  • Child care centers, where classes of children receive care in a child care facility;
  • Preschools, where children who are older than 30 months but not yet old enough to enter kindergarten participate in learning experiences for part of the day.
  • Home-based child care, where providers care for children in their own home;
  • In-home care, where children receive care in their own homes, usually from a family member or a friend.

Regardless of which environment a parent chooses for his or her child, these early learning environments are critical. Ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs during the first five years of life – before entering school. If a child must wait until Kindergarten to receive instructive stimulation, he or she is almost guaranteed to start behind the curve.

This year, the reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant will present Kansas policymakers with a unique opportunity to re-examine the Kansas child care system. During that process, they’ll be able to improve all child care environments for all Kansas’ early learners. Whether they’re cared for in a pre-K program or in a home-based setting, these early experiences make a huge difference. The relationships forged with other children and with their caregivers, the stimulation they receive and words they hear all prepare their young brains for learning.

Kansas policymakers have an incentive to help proactively improve and expand child care opportunities. When children receive care, their parents work and rely less on public assistance. And because child care is early education, it gives children the care they need to start school ready to learn. It’s a smart investment for the entire family – and the entire state.

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Posted in Child Care, Early learning | Leave a comment

KCK Public Schools take pro-active approach to child hunger

By Shannon Cotsoradis
KAC President & CEO

Kansas City Kansas Public Schools recently announced that their district has begun providing breakfast and lunch to all early childhood and elementary students at no cost to students’ families. This opportunity became possible through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which was part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. CEP is an innovative tool to improve child nutrition and reduce administrative burdens on schools and parents.

USD 500 is one of the first Kansas school districts to take advantage of this program. It is a smart and strategic move on the part of KCK Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane – as well as other district leaders – to help reduce child hunger.

The district’s decision to participate in CEP matters because it is part of a larger, sobering conversation about Kansas kids and their futures. Although the Great Recession is long over, nearly one in three Wyandotte County children continue to live in poverty. Kids in poverty are more likely to be food insecure, and studies prove that hungry children struggle to learn.

The effects of child poverty are especially evident in the classroom. Times are tough for all Kansas schools as they struggle to serve more students with fewer resources. A greater number of poor Kansas children combined with less state funding is an equation for crisis in Kansas schools. Alternate school meal models like CEP will help get nutritious meals to kids who need them – ensuring more kids are healthy and ready to learn.

Kansas kids who started Kindergarten when the Great Recession began in 2008 are now a year away from high school. We can’t afford to let child hunger continue at such significant levels for another year. The longer kids go hungry, the more likely they are to face other challenges later in school and – ultimately – later in life. Dr. Lane and USD 500 are to be applauded for their pro-active focus on this critical issue.

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Posted in Child health, Early learning, Nutrition, Partnership for Breakfast in the Classroom, Shannon Cotsoradis | Leave a comment

GUEST BLOG: Small Steps, Big Impact

Leadell EdigerBy Leadell Ediger
Child Care Aware of Kansas Executive Director

This month, I welcomed my fifth grandchild! In some ways, I feel like an old hat at this grand-parenting job. I know the ropes, I know what’s expected of me, and yet, different, especially since this is my daughter’s first child! He or she will deserve a grandma that can Think Big and Start Small.

As an experienced grandma, here’s my 21-step plan (started out as a 20-step plan but the last one is also very important) that will be evaluated and modified as needed.

1. Read all kinds of books that both baby and I will enjoy (I’m especially looking forward to reading my collection of Gyo Fujikawa books to this little one!)

2. Sing songs that are silly, fun, and have surprises, even though my voice is far less than perfect)!

3. Talk about everything; what I see in his/her room, what I see outside, what the weather is outside, the colors of vegetables, what the dogs are doing that help protect and love him/her.

4. Encourage and support the lack of technology! In this information age (the I want-it-at-my fingertips and I want it now age), that can all wait. Yes, I’ll expect this baby to be unplugged until a much later age!

5. Hold often – when he/she is sleeping, crying, snuggling, discovering, etc.

6. Comfort when needed (see above…hold often).

7. Don’t judge, trust that he/she will make mistakes and grow from those blips.

8. Love with all my heart.

9. Attend the recitals/concerts/games (when they come).

10. Give time, just being there (see lack of technology as a means of being fully engaged).

11. Bake special treats (in moderation).

12. Change a diaper or two, when needed.

13. Rock as often as possible.

14. Support mama in her breastfeeding effort.

15. Take care of myself, so I’m ready to be a great grandma.

16. Share my faith.

17. Tell stories about his/her mama’s childhood.

18. Laugh often, especially when I hear that baby belly laugh!

19. Enjoy the quiet moments and those that are not so quiet.

20. Advocate for a safe and trusting child care environment that supports both mama and baby.

21. And, of course, as all good job descriptions include: other duties as assigned!

Looking at my list, I imagine lots more big and little steps will be needed over the next 18 or so years! It’s good that I’ve started to plan already! But what is most important to remember: this baby needs (beyond the basic needs of course) love, comfort, joy, playfulness, and friends and family that cherish and adore him! I wish that for every child!

By the way, I’m out of the office right now…caring for the new grandbaby. Wish me Luck!


Posted in Child health, Early learning | Tagged | 1 Comment

Collaborative advocacy to secure investments for the youngest Kansans

By Erick Vaughn
Executive Director of the Kansas Head Start Association

Voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for at-risk pregnant women and parents
with young children is a vital INVESTMENT in our country’s future, economy, families, and children. The Home Visiting Program, builds upon decades of scientific research, provides voluntary, culturally-appropriate, individually-tailored supports to families in their homes, including providing information about children’s health, development, and safety, and when appropriate, referrals to other support services.

Recently, President Obama signed into law a bill that provides for a two-year extension of that investment, called the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) program (pronounced “McVee”). The bill provides an extension for federal fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at the current funding level of $400 million per year. In Kansas this translates into the means for the continuation and expansion of evidence-based home visiting programs that are currently a part of the Kansas MIECHV work in Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery, and Wyandotte Counties.

The Kansas MIECHV project will now be able to:

  • enroll and serve more at-risk families with evidence-based home visiting supports
  • improve child and maternal outcomes through enhanced interventions
    enhance system and service coordination by addressing healthcare access, mental health, and domestic violence services
  • enhance statewide system infrastructure components including professional development for home visiting professionals

This is great news for Kansas during these times of diminishing resources for services to our most vulnerable. However, this support would not be available if the bill had not first passed the House and Senate.

Many Kansans had a role in helping advocate nationally for this funding. Early childhood partners in Kansas had established relationships with their members of Congress through ongoing communication and this served as a foundation for advocacy activities that ultimately lead to the passage of this bill.

In January, Head Start staff were able to visit our congressional delegation while in DC attending a conference. As a result of follow-up from those visits, Congresswoman Jenkins visited a Head Start program that is a part of the Kansas MIECHV work, and even had the opportunity to go on a home visit. Meanwhile, early childhood partners were asking other Congressmen and Senators to support continued MIECHV funding, a vital investment in our children and families.

A group of parents visited the Kansas delegation a week before the Senate was to vote on MIECHV reauthorization. KHSA takes a group of parents to DC every year to go on hill visits — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many parents. This year our trip occurred a week before the Senate voted and passed this important bill. The parents shared their stories of the impact of Head Start and home visiting on their children and their families’ wellbeing. This visit was perfectly timed and had a cumulative impact with the other good work that had occurred. Kansas played a vital role in the passage of MIECHV reauthorization with five of six in the Kansas congressional delegation voting in favor.

Having a coordinated, strong and consistent message is important, however nothing is more important than the stories and voices of those impacted by home visiting. Are you a parent or grandparent who knows firsthand the importance of home visiting or other early childhood services for your family? If yes, then share your story with your state and federal representatives. If you do not have a personal story, then get involved so you meet someone who does, and help them tell their story and involve neighbors and friends. Your voice is vital in getting and maintaining investments in early childhood. Ultimately, telling our personal experience to decision-makers matters, especially in this environment of limited resources.

Posted in Child Poverty, Early learning, Economic security | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Child health, Children's Initiatives Fund, Early learning | Tagged | Leave a comment

The opportunity for young children and their families that we cannot afford to ignore

By Charles Bruner
Child and Family Policy Center

One of the biggest drivers to the American economy and American prosperity over the last 50 years has been the entry of women into the paid American workforce, dramatically expanding the number of workers in society and the pool of skilled workers to drawn upon for innovation and growth. This, however, also has meant new demands on families with children – particularly in the child’s earliest and most formative years. In two-parent families, parents have worked hard to balance bread-winning and care-giving roles – often while starting out at entry-level and low-wage positions and themselves needing experience and additional education and training to move up. Single parents have done the same, but usually without the two sources of economic support needed to provide for even for the most basic needs and opportunities. Because of these factors, overall in the United States, young children are the age group in society most likely to be in poverty, and poverty figures do not consider the additional costs of child care borne by families with young children.

While parents remain their child’s first and most important teacher, nurse, safety officer and guide to the world, they also are responsible for their child’s security – food, clothing, housing and safe and supportive supervision and care arrangements on a 24-7 basis. Far too many parents struggle in juggling to meet these essential care-giving and bread-winning roles.

The federal budget for 2016 includes proposals that will place upwards of $5 billion annually toward supporting families with young children to meet their children’s child care and other needs in these earliest years of life – and the discretionary fund investments in the budget provide additional funding to make child care and other early childhood services more accessible and of high quality. The proposals more than double the investments the federal government currently is making, through states and communities, to support young children’s early education and development and begin to narrow the gap in investments society makes in these earliest learning years to support young children and their families.

Investments in young children hold the potential to address two of American society’s greatest challenges – the preparation of the next generation to compete and lead in a knowledge-based world economy and the opportunity for the United States to embrace its growing diversity.

Research is clear on the critical importance of the first five years of life to cognitive, social and emotional development – and the current vulnerability that too many children, particularly from lower socio-economic backgrounds, face in this respect. Families want to make investments in their children’s development and be their child’s first teacher, but the United States needs to establish greater opportunities and supports to do so.

Demographics show that young children are the most diverse age group in society (as well as the most likely to live in poverty). While it may not be possible to eliminate poverty overnight, ensuring that all young children start school healthy and prepared for success provides the opportunity to achieve that goal over the next generation. This means investing in their success, through supporting their families as their families work to get by and get ahead. Concerted actions to create equity of opportunity that commence in those first years of life – where one-half of the birth to five population is of color – can move America much farther to becoming a post-racial society that values its diversity as a strength.

Fittingly, at the 25th Anniversary Kids Count Conference, Angela Glover Blackwell stated it simply, “If we can’t raise our kids of color to be part of the middle class, there won’t be one.”

The 2016 federal budget has created the opportunity to commence a truly substantive and critical policy dialogue – across political affiliations and perspective on other issues – on what young children and their families need to grow and succeed. This is a dialogue we cannot afford to ignore.

Posted in Child Poverty, Early learning, Economic security, KIDS COUNT | Tagged | Leave a comment

Caring for Kansas’ kids

By Mindi Moses
Graduate student at the University of Kansas

There were nearly 1.5 million hard-working Kansans in the civilian labor force at year end 2014. Who cares for these dedicated workers’ children? In many cases, it’s child care providers in homes or centers.

Unfortunately, Kansas ranks among the top 10 states with the least affordable center-based child care for an infant. In fact, as a major obstacle in sustaining employment, the average annual cost of infant child care in the state of Kansas is $10,518. For an average single working mother in Kansas that amount equates to nearly half (about 47 percent) of her annual earnings.

High-quality child care is crucially important for the well-being and development of children. I learned much about the status of the youngest Kansans from a presentation by Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, when she visited my graduate-level social policy course at the University of Kansas. Shannon shared statistics from the most current KIDS COUNT report. I learned that childhood poverty is increasing in Kansas and that to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), many families have to be living in extreme poverty. Her presentation shaped my thinking about a policy analysis paper I was working on at the time where I was taking a closer look at the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). The CCDBG is the social program that provides nearly $5 billion in funds to all 50 states to assist low-income working parents in securing high-quality child care services.

Shannon’s presentation and discussion of TANF distribution in the state closely connected with my interest in child care costs and issues. In fact, states have the option of transferring TANF funds toward child assistance to needy families and Kansas transferred 25 to 30 percent of its TANF funds in 2013. Ninety-six percent of Kansas families who receive a portion of these TANF and other child care assistance funds do so because they are working caregivers as opposed to other reasons such as training or child protective service involvement. This is the highest percentage in the nation. However, cash assistance hasn’t increased, and it has decreased greatly in value and dollars for children and needy families are shrinking despite these families’ commitment to work and self-sufficiency.

So what action can we take for these children and their working parents?

  • Be proactive in contacting your legislator.
  • Discuss with colleagues, neighbors and friends how early investments in child care can later reduce the number of children receiving special education services and can greatly increase school readiness for all children.
  • Endorse child care centers that hire and retain high-quality staff and provide excellent care for children.
  • Include child care presentations in discussions of community improvement and expansions.
  • Include child care when conducting needs assessments of communities.
  • Survey businesses to identify what they and their employees feel are the greatest improvements needed to child care policies and subsidy programs.

There is much work that can be done in Kansas in this New Year to improve the care and early education of our youngest citizens.

Posted in Child Care, Early learning, Economic security, KIDS COUNT, Shannon Cotsoradis | Tagged | Leave a comment