ASSOCIATED PRESS: Brownback’s office defends early childhood education shift

January 19, 2016

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office is defending a budget proposal that a child advocate says would make it easier for Kansas to siphon money from early childhood education.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Brownback unveiled last week a state budget that would shift the entire Children’s Initiatives Fund to the State General Fund in fiscal year 2017. The Initiatives Fund is administered by the Children’s Cabinet.

The governor’s office says the move is meant to increase accountability and consolidate early childhood programs within the Kansas State Department of Education, which education commissioner Randy Watson says sought the change to better coordinate initiatives.

Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of Kansas Action for Children and a member of the Children’s Cabinet, said she does not see how the move leads to better coordination.

Watson says that he understands the concerns of advocates like Kansas Action for Children, but the education department sees an opportunity to improve coordination and services for children. He said the request for consolidation was not political, and has been sought under past administrations as well.

According to Watson, his agency lobbied again for the change because the Kansas State Board of Education wants to place greater emphasis on kindergarten readiness.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, said existing childhood programs funded by the Children’s Initiatives Fund will be continued to be fully funded.

The Children’s Initiatives Fund is fueled by annual payments from the tobacco industry as part of a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies that faced health care claims brought by Kansas and other states.

On average, Kansas receives nearly $59 million per year through the settlement.

For 2017, the governor’s office proposes depositing just over $57 million in tobacco funds into the State General Fund and maintaining the same level of childhood programming.

Read more from the Associated Press.

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