By Megan Hart
June 1, 2016

Children’s programs across the state are scrambling to deal with grant cuts that take effect at the start of July.

The cuts come from a $3.3 million reduction in funding for the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, which uses the state’s share of the 1998 master settlement agreement with large tobacco companies to provide grants through the Children’s Initiatives Fund for programs for children and families.

The Children’s Cabinet cut was part of $97 million in funding reductions to state agencies that Gov. Sam Brownback announced in mid-May.

The timing for a budget cut to early childhood programs couldn’t be much worse, Coffeyville USD 445 Superintendent Craig Correll said.

The district faces a $140,000 cut just before it intends to open new rooms in its preschool building to offer all-day preschool to more children, Correll said. The challenge is even greater because the district has only about one month to reduce expenses or find additional revenue, he said.

The Coffeyville school district will have to make cuts by July 1, when the new fiscal year starts, Correll said. It isn’t clear if the district will be able to hire additional teachers to staff the new classrooms, though cutting teachers would be a “last resort,” he said.

“I think (the cut) will be devastating to our kiddos and our community,” he said. The preschool program “was a step to moving our kids out of poverty. It’s a major step backward.”

Some programs exempt

The $3.3 million cut comes out to about 8 percent of the Children’s Cabinet budget for fiscal year 2017 of $42 million, but it won’t be divided equally among the more than 100 programs receiving funds from the tobacco settlement.

Janice Smith, executive director of the Children’s Cabinet, said the Brownback administration told her that programs using the money as a match for federal dollars would be exempt. If the matching funds were cut, those programs also would lose at least some of their federal funds.

The upshot is that instead of all programs absorbing an 8 percent cut, some are held harmless, while others now face a 14 percent cut.

The Children’s Cabinet funds more than 100 programs dealing with early childhood, Smith said, and it intends to spread the cuts equally among groups that aren’t exempt.

“Traditionally, the cabinet, in the name of fairness, has made the same reduction” for all funded organizations, she said.

Annie McKay, a member of the Children’s Cabinet and incoming president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, said she found the decision to exempt some organizations inconsistent with the administration’s refusal to take federal money for other programs, such as Medicaid expansion.

“That’s not about maximizing what’s best for families and kids, it’s about maximizing federal drawdown,” she said.

Eileen Hawley, a spokesperson for Brownback’s office, said the administration’s policies have benefited low-income families.

“Governor Brownback continues to invest in helping families move from poverty to prosperity through a wide range of programs including the Reading Roadmap, child abuse prevention, technical education and Jobs for America’s Graduates,” she said Wednesday.

McKay said the short time frame for the cuts will make it particularly difficult for affected nonprofits.

“Those programs have 30 days to figure out where that’s going to come from before the next fiscal year,” she said. “That’s going to have an immediate impact, and these are programs serving some of Kansas’ most vulnerable kids.”

‘Not the way you want to do it’

Officials with several grantees said they weren’t sure how they would handle the cuts.

Cornelia Stevens, executive director of TOP Early Learning Centers in Wichita, said the Children’s Cabinet grant helps pay for services like mental health care for children and parenting classes for their families. About 600 children used the learning centers this year, she said, but it isn’t yet clear how many children they may be able to serve after the cuts.

“We just found out the news,” she said. “I do know that it means fewer children are going to receive services.”

Miriam Krehbiel, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Topeka, said it partners with multiple organizations that provide children’s mental health, services for kids with developmental delays and quality child care options. The United Way won’t dictate which organizations take cuts but will bring them together to discuss who can absorb them with the least effect on children, she said.

They aren’t likely to find another grant or private donors to replace the Children’s Cabinet funds by the end of June, Krehbiel said.

A “14 percent (cut) on a $2.1 million grant is a lot of money,” she said. “It’s not like we can turn around and just find 200-some thousand dollars lying around.”

Pat Hanrahan, president and CEO of the United Way of the Plains in Wichita, said it plans to take a similar approach to making $97,000 in cuts with its seven agency partners. The United Way has faced budget cuts before, but making additional reductions is a concern, particularly in a community that wants to increase the number of children growing up to be skilled workers, he said.

“When you’ve got multiple programs that are affecting people and you have to do it (make cuts) in a short time, that’s not the way you want to do it,” he said.

Rich Minder, collaborative projects coordinator for the Success by 6 Coalition of Douglas County, said the cuts put organizations in the difficult position of having to balance meeting low-income families’ immediate needs and making long-term investments, such as improving the quality of available child care, Minder said.

The task has become even more difficult because the state has tightened access to programs like cash assistance and subsidized child care, leaving low-income families with fewer options, he said.

“The state of Kansas’ investment in families with young children has dwindled to almost nothing in the general fund,” he said. “It’s looking pretty grim here.”

Read more from the Kansas Health Institute.