EMPORIA GAZETTE: KEY fund dwindles, impacting early childhood programs

By Jessie Wagoner
August 27, 2015

Now that the dust has settled on the 2015 fiscal year, information has been released showing that funds for the Kansas Endowment for Youth fund (KEY fund) have been swept away. The KEY fund was previously the most reliable source for funding for programs to benefit Kansas kids.

The KEY fund, established in the late 1990s, was created as a result of nationwide tobacco litigation and the ensuing settlement that promised to provide $206 billion to states — $1.6 billion of which would go to Kansas over a 25 year period.
The funds were supposed to flow from tobacco companies through the KEY fund to children’s initiative fund and then to children’s programs. The KEY fund served as an endowment which, if funded as it was designed, should currently have a balance of close to $200 million.

Kansas Action for Children released data detailing the impact of repeated sweeps of the fund since 1999. The fund will reach an all-time low of only $140,000 by fiscal year 2017.

“When policymakers established a children’s endowment in 1999, the whole premise was to build a funding structure that could sustain itself and protect critical children’s programs over the long term,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO at Kansas Action for Children. “But because lawmakers chipped away at the fund year by year to use it as a temporary budget stopgap, we have nearly — and likely permanently — depleted it. These short-term decisions have devastating long-term consequences to both our kids and our economy.”

The KEY fund was used to invest in early childhood development programs. Research shows that investment in early childhood development generate a significant return on investment. On average, every one dollar invested in Kansas kids generates between four and nine dollars back into the state economy.

“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.”

The Kansas Legislature has swept a total of almost $200 million from the KEY fund since 2000. Had that $200 million been invested concisely as originally promised, its earnings would have resulted in at least $365 million in available resources for early childhood education programs.

“It is frustrating to me that there are less early childhood services for children in Emporia because the legislature and Governor have taken money from this fund,” Shirley Ames, parent of a 3-year-old Emporian said. “I feel like they have actually stolen from little kids, stolen from their future. It just isn’t right.”

Programs funded through the KEY fund have varied over the years. Frequently, programs like Parents as Teachers have received funding though the amount has dwindled along with the fund. Lawmakers have also appropriated funding for programs administered by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, The Kansas Department for Children and Families and the Kansas Department of Education.

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