By Patrick Lowry
December 4, 2015
When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration recognized last month there simply wasn’t going to be enough revenue coming in this year to pay the bills, adjustments were made.
State Budget Director Shawn Sullivan was chosen to deliver the governor’s plan to deal with the expected $159 million shortfall, which will happen by taking $48 million from the Transportation Department and cutting $124 million in spending.
At the time, Sullivan promised: “Really, no one outside of state government will notice an impact from this change. It’s more of an accounting transfer.”
Some did, however, notice an impact — rather quickly.
Kansas Action for Children President and CEO Shannon Cotsoradis said the $9 million swept from the Children’s Initiative Fund would result in previously approved grants being reduced throughout the state.
Of the 20 CIF programs receiving followup letters last month to announce the cuts, one was the Early Childhood Connections program in Hays USD 489. Within two weeks after hearing ECC’s grant for $764,656 was approved, it was reduced to $713,044 — $51,612 less.
So much for it being “more of an accounting transfer.”
Actually it was accounting sleight of hand by the state that made the sweep possible. Months earlier, state officials told several of the CIF grantee organizations they had to realign their operating calendars with the state’s fiscal year. Seemingly innocuous at the time, shifting three or six months forward likely created busywork at those offices to make everything align properly.
But Cotsoradis suspects something more devious was being planned. Funds earmarked for program use during that period suddenly appeared — at least on paper — to be idle.
“In retrospect, it certainly looks like the fiscal year was altered to free up resources that could be swept by the administration,” Cotsoradis said in a press release.
As inexcusable as the maneuver was, what’s worse is taking money explicitly targeted for young at-risk children in Kansas and spending it in the general fund that’s short only because of the massive income tax cuts enacted in 2012.
In USD 489, the ECC block grant provides Connections Preschool, Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Healthy Start and Hays Interagency Coordinating Council screening programs to at-risk children and families. There are 274 families with kids up to age 5 who benefit directly from that block grant alone.
“I’m happy we’re continuing to get funding, but I’m disappointed money for young children is being allocated elsewhere,” said Donna Hudson-Hamilton, Early Childhood Connections director.
Dana Stanton, USD 489 Early Childhood grants coordinator, is hopeful cuts in staff training and development will ensure programs here aren’t affected. She isn’t as sure what will happen during the next cycle.
The Brownback administration truly is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find new ways to pay for tax cuts the business community wasn’t looking for, and that individuals are not using to spur the economy. Forcing the Legislature to pass the largest tax increase in history last spring that is being shouldered disproportionately by the state’s poorest residents was shameful.
To begin whacking at educational programs designed to help those most in need is contemptible.