By Sam Zeff
July 1, 2015

Since 2000, money that was supposed to be used primarily for early childhood development in Kansas has been repeatedly raided by the Legislature to help balance the state’s budget. Now, says Kansas Action for Children in a report released Wednesday, the Kansas Endowment for Youth (KEY) Fund will be almost depleted in two years.

“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,” Shannon Cotsoradis, president and CEO at Kansas Action for Children said in a statement. “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.”

The report says as the new fiscal year began Wednesday, the KEY fund had a balance of $3 million. After money is “swept” up to help balance this year’s budget, according to the report, there will only be about $355,000. According to the report, the balance will be just $140,000 by the end of 2017.

“Not surprised but very concerned,” is the reaction from moderate Republican Stephanie Clayton from Overland Park who opposed raiding the fund in committee. “But this is the way we budget now. It’s sweep everything and use Band Aids and chewing gum to hold it all together.”

The money comes from the national tobacco settlement. At a hearing in January, Cotsoradis and several moderate Republicans objected to the plan to use money earmarked for children’s programs to close a budget gap.
Many studies have showed that for every dollar invested in early childhood development there is up to a seven dollar return.

“Things like lower cost for special education or lower costs down the road in terms of crime or recidivism. Educational attainment. Things we would either reap or cost avoidance if we invested in young children today,” says Cotsoradis.

If legislators had left the fund alone for the past 15 years, Cotsoradis says, there would be $365 million available for children’s programs.
Sweeping the money for the general fund comes at a particularly bad time for KEY funds because some of the yearly tobacco payments will disappear in 2018 as part of the way the settlement was structured.

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