THE WICHITA EAGLE: Shannon Cotsoradis: Missed opportunity for Kansas kids

By Shannon Cotsoradis
October 4, 2014

We’ve been here before. An opportunity arises for Kansas to receive millions in federal funding – at a time when our state coffers are dwindling – and Gov. Sam Brownback rejects it.

A few years ago, it was $31 million for health care. This time, it’s up to $60 million to expand access to preschool programs.
Recently, Brownback announced that he would not support the Kansas Children’s Cabinet’s application for a grant from the national Race to the Top program. His argument was that the Legislature should be given the opportunity to weigh in. Unfortunately, a letter of support from the governor is required to receive the federal funding, and the deadline to apply will pass before the Legislature convenes again.

Once again, Kansas misses out on an opportunity to improve the lives of its citizens.

The governor’s decision is especially troubling given the situation Kansas children are facing when it comes to early learning experiences. Very few children in Kansas are served through publicly funded preschool, and this is a missed opportunity to both enhance the quality of what we have and to serve more kids.

Decades of research show that early learning experiences benefit children academically, socially and behaviorally – not only in school but later into adulthood. One of the clearest examples is literacy development. The ability to read is a crucial step in overall learning and school success. By improving early literacy experiences for our youngest children, we will increase the number of kids reading at grade level by third grade and graduating from high school.

Additionally, early learning programs demonstrate the greatest return on investment for children growing up in poor families. In Kansas, that’s nearly 1 in 4 kids. Again, the research is clear that these programs, like Head Start and Parents as Teachers, help level the playing field for kids who may not be getting all of the developmental stimulation they need to enter kindergarten prepared for success.

Perhaps most important to keep in mind is that these federal funds would generate more revenue for early childhood education at a time when we are expecting declining revenue from the tobacco settlement. In Kansas, most programs designed to promote healthy growth and development in the early years are funded, at least in part, by settlement payments. The Race to the Top funds would have provided a new source of revenue at a critical time.

Brownback has made it clear that he wants to reduce childhood poverty in Kansas and to see more students read at grade level by fourth grade. Earlier this year, he took a bold step toward achieving those goals by vetoing a transfer of $5 million from the CIF to the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Imagine what we could have done with an additional $60 million.

It’s difficult to understand why the governor wouldn’t want to take another step toward improving outcomes for children. We miss out on millions, and Kansas kids pay the price.

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