WICHITA EAGLE: Children’s advocates raise concerns about long-term funding for programs

By Bryan Lowry
July 1, 2015

Children’s advocates raised concerns Wednesday that the state is endangering long-term funding for programs meant to benefit Kansas kids.

The Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund will drop to a record low amount at the end of fiscal year 2017, according to the advocacy group Kansas Action for Children, under the budgets passed by the Legislature last month.

The Kansas Legislature has swept, or taken for other uses, $200 million from the KEY Fund since 2000. The fund, composed of money from the state’s tobacco settlement, is meant to provide future funding to children’s programs.

The governor vetoed a sweep of the fund last fiscal year, but sweeps are scheduled to take place in both the 2016 fiscal year, which started Wednesday, and the 2017 fiscal year. The fund, which currently has more than $3 million, is projected to dip to $140,000 by the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

The money, if left untouched, would have been stored up for dozens of programs, such as Tiny K, which benefits children with disabilities, and Early Head Start, which helps low-income families provide care and education to toddlers.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president of Kansas Action for Children, said that when policymakers established the fund in 1999 it was with the intention to ensure long-term funding for these programs.

“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,” she said. “These short-term decisions have devastating long-term consequences to both our kids and our economy.”

Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, noted in a phone call that all of the programs that benefit from the KEY Fund will still be funded in both 2016 and 2017. The KEY Fund is meant to provide future funding.

“Every program that’s being funded is still funded at its approved level. The sweeps do not affect any of the funding for the programming,” Ryckman said.

He said that the rationale for the sweeps “was just to fund government now,” noting that lawmakers had to fill a fiscal hole of around $800 million this past session.

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