By Jonathan Shorman
March 3, 2015

Parents as Teachers supporters gathered Tuesday ahead of a two-day effort to sell lawmakers on the program’s value.

Last week the House Social Services Budget Committee recommended cutting all state funding to the program, a $7.2 million blow that would kill Parents as Teachers. The decision, made without a hearing, hasn’t been reversed.

But under pressure, lawmakers will hold a presentation Thursday where the Kansas Parents as Teachers Association (KPATA) will have the chance to defend the program. And on Wednesday, the association will speak to legislators during its previously scheduled legislative advocacy day.

Kansas Action for Children president Shannon Cotsoradis tackled the funding issue head-on during a gathering of dozens of Parents as Teachers supporters and professionals during KPATA’s annual conference in Topeka on Tuesday, which also celebrated the program’s 25th anniversary.

Cotsoradis said legislators face a large budget shortfall of more than $1 billion over the next two fiscal years. Parents as Teachers, and other programs that are provided resources through the Children’s Initiative Fund, receive tobacco settlement money. To help balance the budget, lawmakers have transferred money from the CIF and into the state’s general fund.

Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, originally made the motion in the Social Services Budget Committee to cut the program’s funding. She has said the Legislature is trying to find efficiencies to fund necessities and that it needs to take a look at things that are disposable. She has been critical that Parents as Teachers isn’t means-tested.

As part of its recommendation, the committee also said $2 million from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund should be swept into the general fund. That would leave $500,000 in the fund. Millions have been previously taken from the fund to help balance the current year’s budget.

One problem, Cotsoradis says, is that the state doesn’t know how much tobacco settlement cash it will receive until March of the year it is supposed to receive it.

“Legislators will actually be sweeping money that we don’t even have an estimated payment on for the years we’re sweeping it for,” Cotsoradis said.

“It’s one thing to borrow against your paycheck when you know it’s coming on Friday. It’s another thing to borrow against your paycheck when you’re unemployed. It’s about the equivalent here. This is money we have no way of knowing if it will ever be in the bank.”

Nancy Keel, KPATA director, said that despite the threat to funding, the group’s annual conference was upbeat.

“We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch, that’s for sure, that’s not the deal, but we have always taken a positive approach to our advocacy and we’re not going to change,” Keel said. “We’re going to keep it positive.”

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