Blogger | Kansas Legislature

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

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.

via GIPHY

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.

via GIPHY

 

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.

via GIPHY

 

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

Declining child care assistance leaves Kansas families stuck in poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO


For the last year, state policymakers have engaged in a vigorous debate about how to best help low-income Kansans escape the cycle of poverty. Diverse philosophical approaches have been explored. At Kansas Action for Children, we believe public supports – like cash assistance – give families the critical lift they need when they need it most, increasing their children’s chance of escaping poverty in the future. Some may disagree, suggesting public supports promote government dependency, steal dignity, and discourage low-income people from working.

It is impossible, however, to demonstrate your commitment to the importance of getting Kansas families back to work without also acknowledging how child care access impacts their ability to find and keep a job. If Kansas children do not have child care, their parents cannot work. Without access to child care assistance, parents in poverty must choose between their work and the wellbeing of their children.

Unfortunately, the number of Kansas children receiving child care assistance has declined significantly in the last 10 years. In fiscal year 2015, the state’s child care assistance program served an average of just 12,779 children each month – compared to over 19,000 in 2006.

Child Care Assistance Drop

Today, only eight percent of Kansas’ 211,000 eligible children receive child care assistance from the state.

Eligible Children

The impact of this is undeniable. As access to work supports dropped, it’s not surprising that childhood poverty increased.

Poverty Increase
A variety of factors impact the childhood poverty rate, but research consistently proves child care subsidies affect the economic security of families. Families who receive assistance paying for the costs of child care are also more likely to hold stable employment. A child care subsidy can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.

The 2016 legislative session will offer a unique opportunity to strengthen child care assistance in Kansas as part of the implementation of the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant. Policymakers say they want to help Kansans who rely on public assistance transition to meaningful and rewarding work. Given that, we expect overwhelming support for making child care assistance more accessible to Kansas families in 2016.  Child care assistance helps Kansas parents get back to work or enables them to go look for work. It is a critical step in helping low-income families get off welfare rolls, onto payrolls, and out of poverty.

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Posted in Child Care, Child Poverty, Economic security, Kansas Legislature, Shannon Cotsoradis | Leave a comment

Longterm consequences of childhood poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
October 29, 2015

On Thursday, October 22nd I had the privilege of presenting at the Kansas Economic Policy Conference.  The theme of this year’s conference was Economic Opportunity in Kansas: What Does the Future Hold?  When we think about what the future holds in Kansas, many of us are quick to focus on the state’s current fiscal situation.  And, while that certainly doesn’t bode well for our future, I think there is another indicator that is just as important. Here are a couple of the thoughts I shared with the audience:    

 

Childhood poverty is persistently high in Kansas.  For more than a decade, the percentage of children living in poverty in Kansas has been on the rise.  Nearly 1 in 5 Kansas children are growing up in poverty.  Despite a recent downtick in this trend, childhood poverty continues to be at levels more consistent with a recession than with an economic recovery.  And, we are lagging several of our neighboring Midwestern states in terms of improvement on this indicator.   

 

We know what to do, but we just aren’t doing it.  While the dialogue at the state level might suggest we don’t know what to do to change the trend with respect to childhood poverty, the evidence is clear and compelling.  For our youngest children, changing the trajectory means investing in two things: income supports and access to high-quality early learning.  It is that simple.  In fact, for a family with a young child, a $3,000 annual boost to family income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings and 135 additional work hours per year after age 25.  And, children who have access to high-quality early education require less remediation and special education, complete more school, are better prepared for a job, have higher lifetime earnings, and incur lower criminal justice and welfare costs.  Together, income supports –  like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit – and access to high-quality early learning is a powerful combination that can change the course of a child’s life.

 

Childhood poverty has consequences for our economy.  While there are more immediate opportunities for concern when it comes to the Kansas economy, the long-term implications of persistently high levels of childhood poverty are significant and shouldn’t be overlooked.  Children that grow up in poor families – absent significant intervention – are likely to become tomorrow’s poor adults.  The poverty status of children has negative consequences for their health as adults, their educational attainment, and their lifetime earnings.  Poor adult health, low educational attainment, and the inability to transcend low-wage work has obvious human costs.  What may be less apparent is how costly it is for all of us.  If policymakers continue to make choices that fly in the face of what’s good for children growing up in poverty today, tomorrow the same children will be relying on Medicaid, public assistance, and other costly government programs.

 

This conversation will certainly continue as the 2016 legislative session approaches, and we hope you will contribute to the dialogue. If we are committed to an economic future that is bright in Kansas, we can’t continue to ignore the consequences of failing to invest in our poorest children.  Policymakers must set their ideological commitments aside, and instead commit to an approach that recognizes the success of children is inextricably linked to the success of their parents. 

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Economic security, Kansas Legislature | Leave a comment

Closing pathways out of poverty

By Hilary Gee
Director of Health Policy

Work supports like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Child Care Assistance are proven to help lift families out of poverty. With 1 in 5 Kansas kids living in poverty, we should improve access to support programs, not limit them.

Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature is moving quickly on bills that will severely limit access to programs like TANF. House Bill 2381 and Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258 (previously Senate Bill 256) weaken programs designed and proven to help families get out of poverty.

TANF provides small amounts of cash assistance for extremely poor families with children. To qualify, a family of three would have to have income lower than $527 a month – many families participating in this program have no income at all. The help received is not excessive – about $400 a month to help with necessities like housing, food and child care.

The program is limited. Federal rules stipulate that a family is eligible for 60 months, or five years, over a lifetime. TANF also already has strict work requirements – able-bodied adults must be working, looking for work, or pursuing education to maintain eligibility. The average Kansas family in the program receives help for 14 to 18 months at a time. However, many families need that short-term help more than once. The Kansas Department of Children and Families has already shortened lifetime eligibility to just 48 months and participation dropped by 950 cases each month. The Legislature is now considering cutting lifetime eligibility to just 36 months.

Legislation moving through the Statehouse also limits access to food and child care assistance, and seeks to further stigmatize families who participate in these programs. It prohibits beneficiaries from spending TANF benefits outside of Kansas, so families that live in border areas may have to travel further or pay more. Additionally, a proposed amendment to the bill would require a photo of the recipient on the benefits card used for SNAP, TANF and child care subsidies. This is presented as a way to prevent fraudulent use of the programs, particularly SNAP. However, SNAP has a very low level of fraud (around 1 percent). And adding photos to cards could cost the state millions to implement. Currently, one card is issued per household, and multiple family members may be authorized to use it. If a photo were required, the state may need to issue cards for each family member.

Kansas Action for Children opposes these changes and testified against House Bill 2381 and Senate Bill 256, the original versions of the bills, and opposes the passage of Senate Substitute of House Bill 2258. With the state facing a budget shortage, the Legislature should focus on cost-effective solutions that lift families out of poverty, which benefits all Kansans and our economy.

Posted in Child Poverty, Economic security, Kansas Legislature | Tagged | Leave a comment

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

Looking beyond election year politics

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO

Today, as we co-release the National KIDS COUNT Data Book with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, all eyes in Kansas will be on the childhood poverty numbers. While childhood poverty is an issue many Kansans care about, it is also receiving unprecedented attention during this election cycle.

child povertyAt first glance, the childhood poverty numbers appear to be flat. Nineteen percent of children were living in poverty in 2011, and the percent remains unchanged in 2012. The reality, however, is much more complicated than that. Understanding the economic conditions of families with children requires taking a step back. When I look at the big picture, this is what I see:

Childhood poverty has increased significantly. There is a reason we rely on trend data to illustrate indicators that are impacting the well-being of children and families. One data point is just that. Trends paint a picture of the trajectory of an issue over time, providing a more reliable measuring stick. Regardless of the data source you choose to reference, the trend line clearly illustrates that over the past five years the percent of children living in poverty in Kansas has increased.

Poverty is only one indicator of the economic stability of families with children. The National KIDS COUNT Data Book is a good reminder that poverty is only one indicator of how families with children in Kansas are faring economically. Other benchmarks include children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing cost burden and teens not in school and not working.

Many Kansas families with children are clearly struggling. Kansas ranks seventh overall in the economic well-being domain. Again, however, it is the trends in the data that tell the story of the path we are taking as a state. In fact, the trend on every indicator in the economic well-being domain is worsening. And, when coupled with other relevant indicators in the family and community domain that are worsening or unchanged – children in single parent families, children in families where the household lacks a high school diploma and children living in high poverty areas – it is clear that economic stability is out of reach for many Kansas families.

I am hopeful that with today’s release we can shift the focus from arguing about the data source or what the trend data tells us about childhood poverty to a broader set of indicators that illustrate the economic realities facing many families with children. Simply put, it is an issue that is far too important to the future of our state and our children to let it get consumed by election-year politics.

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Early learning, Economic security, Kansas Legislature, KIDS COUNT, Shannon Cotsoradis | 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