By Jessie Wagoner
November 24, 2015

The 2015 Kansas KIDS COUNT report released in October showed troubling trends for children in Lyon County. Poverty rates in the county continue to climb, leaving 23.15 percent of children under the age of 18 in Lyon County living in poverty with 64.04 percent of children qualifying for free and reduced lunches.

Yet with state revenues failing to meet estimates, Kansas children are paying the bill. Last week, Governor Sam Brownback’s budget director Shawn Sullivan outlined budget adjustments totaling $124 million — nine million of which comes from the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

The Children’s Initiative Fund is funded by tobacco settlement payments that flow through the Kansas Endowment for Youth. Those dollars have previously funded early childhood education programs. This latest $9 million sweep lowers funding for existing Early Childhood Block Grant programs by approximately 6.5 percent in fiscal year 2016 and by approximately an additional three percent in fiscal year 2017.

“The Governor’s fancy accounting tricks don’t dull the impact of the sweeps on Kansas children and families,” said Kansas Action for Children President and CEO Shannon Cotsoradis. “These programs produce some of the most impressive early childhood outcomes in Kansas, and they are being sacrificed for a failing tax plan that has spiraled out of control.”

Close to $200 million has been swept from the fund since 2000. Had that $200 million been invested as originally promised its earnings would have resulted in at least $365 million in available resources for early childhood programs.

“The KEY Fund is not just about the safety net,” said Torree Pederson, president of the Alliance for Childhood Education, a coalition of business leaders both large and small committed to improving Kansas’ economic vitality through early childhood education. “It’s also about the Kansas economy. It takes time and resources to grow a competitive workforce, but leaders in the private sector understand the difference between an expense and an investment. If lawmakers are serious about running state government more like a business, they need to learn the difference too. The KEY Fund’s lost return on investment will have a more damaging long-term impact on our economy than reducing the short-term expense of programs for children and families.”

It is estimated that for every one dollar invested in Kansas kids for early childhood programs between four and nine dollars will be generated back into the state economy.

Another issue with transferring funds from the Children’s Initiative Fund is the lack of consistency in payment amounts from tobacco settlements — the amount the state receives from the annual payment fluctuates. The state won’t receive the first estimate of this year’s payment until February and the funds don’t arrive until April.

“These financial gimmicks are more irresponsible than payday lending,” said Cotsoradis. “The state is borrowing against something it doesn’t even know it has and, ultimately, children will pay the price. These cuts will reduce funding in 20 programs across Kansas. Unfortunately, this is probably only the beginning.”

Read more from the Emporia Gazette.