GUEST BLOG: Early education a national security issue

By William A. “Art” Bloomer
Retired brigadier general with the U.S. Marine Corps

The military is my life. For 31 years I served active duty in the Marines and have since continued to support our country’s national defense. Over the course of my career, I have flown more than 300 combat missions and participated in the operation to evacuate Saigon during the Vietnam War, as well as commanding hundreds of honorable Marines.

It may be surprising to learn that, given my history, today I find one of the greatest threats to our security to be a lack of investment in our children in their early years. Quality early childhood education in Kansas is under siege, and it is imperative we fight for it.

I have no doubt that many of you are wondering why a retired general is speaking out about quality early learning. But poor education – failing to graduate from high school – is one of the leading disqualifiers for military service.

In Kansas, 14 percent of high school students fail to graduate on time, making it difficult to join the military without a high school diploma. Even among Kansas young adults who do finish high school, 21 percent of those seeking to enlist cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for math, literacy and problem-solving to join.

These problems are rooted in the earliest years of life. Research shows that quality early childhood education acts as the foundation for math and literacy, as well as developing social skills that enable children to work well with others and function as part of a team.

A study highlighted by the Mission: Readiness military leaders group says that by age 3, a child’s brain has reached 85 percent of its adult weight and as early as 9 months old, learning gaps begin to distinguish between advantaged and disadvantaged children, with disadvantaged children starting kindergarten as much as a year and a half behind their peers. Many of these children never catch up, increasing their risk of dropping out of high school and lessening their chances of serving in the military, should they so choose.

Unfortunately, Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a budget that would eliminate Kansas’ primary infrastructure for early childhood education. The budget would dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund, which was dedicated years ago when lawmakers committed to children and the state’s future by promising tobacco settlement funds to the expansion and improvement of quality early learning. As a result, we are on the cusp of losing one of the most valuable resources for ensuring children enter school ready to learn.

To enroll a child in high-quality private preschool costs nearly $8,000 a year, or 20 percent of the income of a moderate salary-level Kansas family. This is far more than many families can afford, and research already shows that nearly 60 percent of Kansas 3- and 4-year-olds are not attending preschool at all.

The responsibility of safeguarding the futures of Kansas youth now rests on the shoulders of the Legislature. I strongly urge it to reject the budget proposal to dismantle the Children’s Initiatives Fund.

The fund not only increases children’s educational success, but also strengthens the future security of our nation.

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Child care supports work

By Amanda Gress
KAC Director of Research & Analysis

Child care lays the foundation for a strong Kansas workforce. Every day, parents across Kansas begin their workday by dropping their children off at child care. Available and affordable child care means that parents can go to work and provide for their families. After all, it’s impossible for parents to work, search for work, or attend school without arranging care for their children. If child care plans fall through, a parent may miss work or spend a workday worrying about their child’s wellbeing. If parents can’t afford child care, they may drop out of the labor force altogether. Ensuring that child care is available and affordable is a smart strategy for boosting employment and improving productivity.

Helping families afford the cost of child care keeps Kansas families working. Families who receive assistance paying for child care are more likely to be employed and more likely to work full time. This can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.

The Kansas child care assistance program could do more to help working families. Child care assistance is most effective if the program gradually phases out as families’ income increases. This gradual phase-out of eligibility ensures that parents who begin earning more money do not become worse off financially. Kansas could also simplify reporting requirements for families with frequently changing schedules, who already face extra challenges finding child care so that they can continue working. These reforms would help child care assistance meet the needs of working Kansas families.

The reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant presents Kansas policymakers with a unique opportunity to make sure all Kansas families can keep working. High-quality child care prepares Kansas kids for success and means that their parents can go to work. Seizing this opportunity to improve our state’s child care is essential to supporting Kansas’ working parents.

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Child care is early education

By Amanda Gress
KAC Director of Research & Analysis

After decades of research concluding that early education makes a tremendous difference in a child’s life, individuals across the political spectrum finally acknowledge the importance of early education.

Child care, on the other hand, is often viewed separately. People tend to mistake it for babysitting – a safe space for children while parents work. The truth is high quality child care IS early education.

Let me share my thinking:

Child care prepares young children to succeed in school and in life. It doesn’t just ensure parents can go to work – it is one of the first early learning environments in an infant’s or a toddler’s life. Stimulating, engaging, high-quality child care makes children more likely to succeed once they enter school. They’re also more likely to find good jobs and provide for their own families when they’re adults.

Kansas kids receive child care in four types of settings:

  • Child care centers, where classes of children receive care in a child care facility;
  • Preschools, where children who are older than 30 months but not yet old enough to enter kindergarten participate in learning experiences for part of the day.
  • Home-based child care, where providers care for children in their own home;
  • In-home care, where children receive care in their own homes, usually from a family member or a friend.

Regardless of which environment a parent chooses for his or her child, these early learning environments are critical. Ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs during the first five years of life – before entering school. If a child must wait until Kindergarten to receive instructive stimulation, he or she is almost guaranteed to start behind the curve.

This year, the reauthorization of the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant will present Kansas policymakers with a unique opportunity to re-examine the Kansas child care system. During that process, they’ll be able to improve all child care environments for all Kansas’ early learners. Whether they’re cared for in a pre-K program or in a home-based setting, these early experiences make a huge difference. The relationships forged with other children and with their caregivers, the stimulation they receive and words they hear all prepare their young brains for learning.

Kansas policymakers have an incentive to help proactively improve and expand child care opportunities. When children receive care, their parents work and rely less on public assistance. And because child care is early education, it gives children the care they need to start school ready to learn. It’s a smart investment for the entire family – and the entire state.

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Declining child care assistance leaves Kansas families stuck in poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO

For the last year, state policymakers have engaged in a vigorous debate about how to best help low-income Kansans escape the cycle of poverty. Diverse philosophical approaches have been explored. At Kansas Action for Children, we believe public supports – like cash assistance – give families the critical lift they need when they need it most, increasing their children’s chance of escaping poverty in the future. Some may disagree, suggesting public supports promote government dependency, steal dignity, and discourage low-income people from working.

It is impossible, however, to demonstrate your commitment to the importance of getting Kansas families back to work without also acknowledging how child care access impacts their ability to find and keep a job. If Kansas children do not have child care, their parents cannot work. Without access to child care assistance, parents in poverty must choose between their work and the wellbeing of their children.

Unfortunately, the number of Kansas children receiving child care assistance has declined significantly in the last 10 years. In fiscal year 2015, the state’s child care assistance program served an average of just 12,779 children each month – compared to over 19,000 in 2006.

Child Care Assistance Drop

Today, only eight percent of Kansas’ 211,000 eligible children receive child care assistance from the state.

Eligible Children

The impact of this is undeniable. As access to work supports dropped, it’s not surprising that childhood poverty increased.

Poverty Increase
A variety of factors impact the childhood poverty rate, but research consistently proves child care subsidies affect the economic security of families. Families who receive assistance paying for the costs of child care are also more likely to hold stable employment. A child care subsidy can make working profitable for a parent who would otherwise devote a large chunk of their paycheck to child care.

The 2016 legislative session will offer a unique opportunity to strengthen child care assistance in Kansas as part of the implementation of the reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant. Policymakers say they want to help Kansans who rely on public assistance transition to meaningful and rewarding work. Given that, we expect overwhelming support for making child care assistance more accessible to Kansas families in 2016.  Child care assistance helps Kansas parents get back to work or enables them to go look for work. It is a critical step in helping low-income families get off welfare rolls, onto payrolls, and out of poverty.

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Longterm consequences of childhood poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
October 29, 2015

On Thursday, October 22nd I had the privilege of presenting at the Kansas Economic Policy Conference.  The theme of this year’s conference was Economic Opportunity in Kansas: What Does the Future Hold?  When we think about what the future holds in Kansas, many of us are quick to focus on the state’s current fiscal situation.  And, while that certainly doesn’t bode well for our future, I think there is another indicator that is just as important. Here are a couple of the thoughts I shared with the audience:    


Childhood poverty is persistently high in Kansas.  For more than a decade, the percentage of children living in poverty in Kansas has been on the rise.  Nearly 1 in 5 Kansas children are growing up in poverty.  Despite a recent downtick in this trend, childhood poverty continues to be at levels more consistent with a recession than with an economic recovery.  And, we are lagging several of our neighboring Midwestern states in terms of improvement on this indicator.   


We know what to do, but we just aren’t doing it.  While the dialogue at the state level might suggest we don’t know what to do to change the trend with respect to childhood poverty, the evidence is clear and compelling.  For our youngest children, changing the trajectory means investing in two things: income supports and access to high-quality early learning.  It is that simple.  In fact, for a family with a young child, a $3,000 annual boost to family income is associated with a 17 percent increase in adult earnings and 135 additional work hours per year after age 25.  And, children who have access to high-quality early education require less remediation and special education, complete more school, are better prepared for a job, have higher lifetime earnings, and incur lower criminal justice and welfare costs.  Together, income supports –  like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Earned Income Tax Credit – and access to high-quality early learning is a powerful combination that can change the course of a child’s life.


Childhood poverty has consequences for our economy.  While there are more immediate opportunities for concern when it comes to the Kansas economy, the long-term implications of persistently high levels of childhood poverty are significant and shouldn’t be overlooked.  Children that grow up in poor families – absent significant intervention – are likely to become tomorrow’s poor adults.  The poverty status of children has negative consequences for their health as adults, their educational attainment, and their lifetime earnings.  Poor adult health, low educational attainment, and the inability to transcend low-wage work has obvious human costs.  What may be less apparent is how costly it is for all of us.  If policymakers continue to make choices that fly in the face of what’s good for children growing up in poverty today, tomorrow the same children will be relying on Medicaid, public assistance, and other costly government programs.


This conversation will certainly continue as the 2016 legislative session approaches, and we hope you will contribute to the dialogue. If we are committed to an economic future that is bright in Kansas, we can’t continue to ignore the consequences of failing to invest in our poorest children.  Policymakers must set their ideological commitments aside, and instead commit to an approach that recognizes the success of children is inextricably linked to the success of their parents. 

Posted in Child health, Child Poverty, Economic security, Kansas Legislature | Leave a comment

KCK Public Schools take pro-active approach to child hunger

By Shannon Cotsoradis
KAC President & CEO

Kansas City Kansas Public Schools recently announced that their district has begun providing breakfast and lunch to all early childhood and elementary students at no cost to students’ families. This opportunity became possible through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which was part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. CEP is an innovative tool to improve child nutrition and reduce administrative burdens on schools and parents.

USD 500 is one of the first Kansas school districts to take advantage of this program. It is a smart and strategic move on the part of KCK Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Lane – as well as other district leaders – to help reduce child hunger.

The district’s decision to participate in CEP matters because it is part of a larger, sobering conversation about Kansas kids and their futures. Although the Great Recession is long over, nearly one in three Wyandotte County children continue to live in poverty. Kids in poverty are more likely to be food insecure, and studies prove that hungry children struggle to learn.

The effects of child poverty are especially evident in the classroom. Times are tough for all Kansas schools as they struggle to serve more students with fewer resources. A greater number of poor Kansas children combined with less state funding is an equation for crisis in Kansas schools. Alternate school meal models like CEP will help get nutritious meals to kids who need them – ensuring more kids are healthy and ready to learn.

Kansas kids who started Kindergarten when the Great Recession began in 2008 are now a year away from high school. We can’t afford to let child hunger continue at such significant levels for another year. The longer kids go hungry, the more likely they are to face other challenges later in school and – ultimately – later in life. Dr. Lane and USD 500 are to be applauded for their pro-active focus on this critical issue.

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Time to #ThinkBIG!

By Hilary Gee
KAC Government Relations Specialist

Think Big Start Small

Kids learn habits while they’re small that persist through adulthood – when kids are big!  Child care providers are key leaders in helping Kansas kids build lifelong healthy habits. By making a few key changes related to food, drinks and activity, providers can have a big impact on the health of Kansas kids.

Adults and kids of all sizes can benefit from good nutrition and activity habits, but changes are needed because a growing number of Kansans of all ages are overweight or obese. These serious health problems start early – 20% of children ages 2-5 in the U.S. are already overweight or obese, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer health, social and educational challenges than their healthy-weight peers. Additionally, people who are overweight or obese as children are more likely to be obese as adults. Early environments – like child care and early education programs – play a crucial role in shaping behaviors and habits for life.


The Think Big! Start Small Pledge Program

The Think Big! Start Small provider pledge is a voluntary program led by Child Care Aware® of Kansas and Kansas Action for Children to connect child care providers with information and resources to promote healthy habits for kids related to food, drink, active play and screen time.

By completing a simple online pledge, child care providers are committing to help make Kansas kids healthier through a few simple changes in their programs. Already, hundreds of providers from child care centers and homes across Kansas have taken the pledge! Join us in building healthier communities so that all Kansas kids can grow up healthy – take the pledge here.


Small Changes, Big Impact.

To help maximize the impact of a few changes, we’ve identified four top priorities based on research and collaboration with Kansas experts: Better Beverages, Unplug Under 2, Breastfeeding Benefits and Right Rewards.  These are simple changes that are designed to work in all child care programs – from small family day care homes to big child care centers.


Better Beverages

Better BeveragesWhile food choices get a lot of attention, it’s important to remember that beverages also play a big role in children’s nutrition and health. Children and adults get a lot of calories from sugary beverages like soda pop, juice drinks, and sports drinks, but water is the best beverage for keeping kids older than age 1 hydrated.  Calories from sugary drinks don’t satisfy hunger like calories from food.  And while some sweet drinks (like diet soda) don’t have calories, they make you crave sweet foods and ultimately consume more calories. Children should be encouraged to drink water or low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks.

Having too many sugar-sweetened drinks contributes to a variety of health problems for kids – from dental cavities to heart disease and high blood pressure.  If you currently drink or serve sweet drinks a lot, start by replacing one or two sweet drinks each day with a better beverage, or skipping all sweet drinks just one day a week (learn more in “Pass on Pop”). Low-fat milk and water are great for kids.  To make water more fun, add some fruit, fresh or frozen, for flavor.


Unplug Under 2

Unplug Under TwoKids and adults spend a lot of time looking at electronic screens, like smart phones, tablets and TVs, but for young children, screen time should be limited or avoided. While parents and other caregivers may allow lots of screen time at home, you have the opportunity to support healthier habits while kids are in your care.

As a general rule, children under age 2 should have no screen time.  For these young children, screen time can interfere with healthy brain development – a child’s brain develops best when interacting with people like parents, caregivers and other kids, not screens.  The stimulation from electronics can also interfere with restful sleep.  Babies and toddlers sleep a lot, so when they are awake, it’s important to maximize the time they spend interacting and exploring the real world.

Older children should have no more than two hours of screen time each day.  For children of all ages, time spent looking at screens is generally sedentary and occupies time when they could be engaged in active play.   Excessive screen-time can lead to serious issues, including attention problems, trouble in school, sleep disorders, and obesity.  When older kids are allowed screen time, make sure it’s a high-quality and interactive experience – ask questions and discuss what is happening on the screen. This helps kids make connections with real world activities.


Breastfeeding Benefits

Breastfeeding BenefitsBreast milk is the ideal food for infants. Child care providers have a valuable opportunity to support and promote breastfeeding.  Parents of breastfed children need information and support to continue breastfeeding when children are in a child care program. In addition to supporting parents, it’s also important to support fellow providers who choose to continue breastfeeding while working.

Breastfeeding has benefits for child care providers as well as children and their families.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for first six months of life for optimal nutrition.   Breastmilk lower infants’ risk for infections, colds, asthma, allergies, SIDS, chronic health problems, as well as diabetes and obesity.  In addition to keeping babies healthy, breastfed babies are happier! Breastmilk is easier to digest than formula, and this makes babies less fussy.

Continuing breastfeeding when babies are in child care is a big commitment for mothers – it takes time and patience to both express adequate milk to send to child care and to continue nursing when with their children.  Providers play an important role in helping mothers succeed who choose to breastfeed succeed.  Work with breastfeeding mothers to establish a feeding schedule that supports their feeding/expressing routine at home.


Right Rewards

Right RewardsTo help kids learn to enjoy healthy food and physical activity, we need to rethink some customs around rewards and incentives.  Food and physical activity should not be used as a punishment or as a reward.

If you reward good behavior with unhealthy food (like ice cream or candy), kids develop a stronger preference for sweets.  It also contradicts nutrition values they are learning at home and in child care.  Rewarding kids with unhealthy food is like saying “You need healthy food to grow up strong and feel good, but if you’re good, you will be rewarded with unhealthy food.”  Confusing, right?  Food rewards also give kids calories they may not need, or replace healthier food in their day.  By providing food only when kids are hungry – and not as a treat – children learn to respond to their bodies’ hunger cues.  Instead, reward good behavior with praise, a fun activity or other classroom privilege (like leading an activity or picking a game for the group). Similarly, using physical activity – like running laps – as a punishment for bad behavior reinforces negative associations with exercise.

Regular activity helps children regulate their actions and behavior, so punishing bad behavior by limiting activity (like making a child sit in time-out while other kids get to run around) can be counter-productive.  Activity should not be treated like a privilege.  Instead, correct problematic behavior by restricting screen time or taking away a toy.


Now that you know how small changes in your child care program can have a big impact on the lives of young kids, take the pledge at After you pledge, you’ll be connected with information and resources to promote healthy habits for kids related to food, drink, active play and screen time.  You can also connect with other Think Big! Start Small pledge providers on Pinterest to share your ideas and learn from others across the state.  Changes you make when kids are small can have big benefits!

Learn more about Think Big! Start Small.

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GUEST BLOG: Small Steps, Big Impact

Leadell EdigerBy Leadell Ediger
Child Care Aware of Kansas Executive Director

This month, I welcomed my fifth grandchild! In some ways, I feel like an old hat at this grand-parenting job. I know the ropes, I know what’s expected of me, and yet, different, especially since this is my daughter’s first child! He or she will deserve a grandma that can Think Big and Start Small.

As an experienced grandma, here’s my 21-step plan (started out as a 20-step plan but the last one is also very important) that will be evaluated and modified as needed.

1. Read all kinds of books that both baby and I will enjoy (I’m especially looking forward to reading my collection of Gyo Fujikawa books to this little one!)

2. Sing songs that are silly, fun, and have surprises, even though my voice is far less than perfect)!

3. Talk about everything; what I see in his/her room, what I see outside, what the weather is outside, the colors of vegetables, what the dogs are doing that help protect and love him/her.

4. Encourage and support the lack of technology! In this information age (the I want-it-at-my fingertips and I want it now age), that can all wait. Yes, I’ll expect this baby to be unplugged until a much later age!

5. Hold often – when he/she is sleeping, crying, snuggling, discovering, etc.

6. Comfort when needed (see above…hold often).

7. Don’t judge, trust that he/she will make mistakes and grow from those blips.

8. Love with all my heart.

9. Attend the recitals/concerts/games (when they come).

10. Give time, just being there (see lack of technology as a means of being fully engaged).

11. Bake special treats (in moderation).

12. Change a diaper or two, when needed.

13. Rock as often as possible.

14. Support mama in her breastfeeding effort.

15. Take care of myself, so I’m ready to be a great grandma.

16. Share my faith.

17. Tell stories about his/her mama’s childhood.

18. Laugh often, especially when I hear that baby belly laugh!

19. Enjoy the quiet moments and those that are not so quiet.

20. Advocate for a safe and trusting child care environment that supports both mama and baby.

21. And, of course, as all good job descriptions include: other duties as assigned!

Looking at my list, I imagine lots more big and little steps will be needed over the next 18 or so years! It’s good that I’ve started to plan already! But what is most important to remember: this baby needs (beyond the basic needs of course) love, comfort, joy, playfulness, and friends and family that cherish and adore him! I wish that for every child!

By the way, I’m out of the office right now…caring for the new grandbaby. Wish me Luck!


Posted in Child health, Early learning | Tagged | 1 Comment

Serving up success in school with Breakfast in the Classroom

By Hilary Gee
KAC Government Relations Specialist

PBIC Infographic

Everyone – from parents and pediatricians to policymakers and teachers – understands that kids have trouble focusing and controlling their behavior when they’re hungry.  That’s why school lunch has been a key piece of public education since 1946.

Then, in 1975, the school lunch program expanded to include school breakfast, which was a highly positive step forward in reducing child hunger and improving child nutrition in America.

Sadly, too many Kansas kids are still distracted from morning lessons by rumbling tummies.

Although breakfast is served in most Kansas schools, it’s not always easy for kids to participate. Most schools serve breakfast in the cafeteria before the start of the school day. Bus schedules, limited time, and classroom distance from the cafeteria are all barriers to participation in school breakfast.

In fact, Kansas actually ranks 33rd in the entire country in providing breakfast to low-income children. This may not seem like a big deal, but studies consistently prove that hungry children are more likely to get sick, less likely to succeed in school, and less likely to finish high school or go on to college. With nearly one in five Kansas kids living in poverty, there’s also a good chance that many kids missing out on breakfast are food insecure.

Fortunately, there is a solution!

With many Kansas kids heading back to school this week, KAC released a brief about the benefits of Breakfast in the Classroom and our work as part of Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom in Kansas. Check out the report, and share resources on Facebook and Twitter.

As they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. We have a responsibility to make sure all Kansas kids have access to it.

Learn more about Breakfast in the Classroom and other alternative breakfast models at

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It’s time for an honest conversation about child poverty

By Shannon Cotsoradis
Kansas Action for Children President & CEO

Last week Kansas Action for Children partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the release of its 26th Annual KIDS COUNT Databook, exploring state trends in child well being. They evaluated each state in 16 indicators and four categories: economy, education, health, and family and community.

Kansas made a few modest gains, but a closer look at the data reveals little to celebrate. As the state agency charged with protecting our most vulnerable children and their families, it is troubling that the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) was quick to laud the 2015 KIDS COUNT report as good news.

Here is some context to consider as you evaluate the claims:

  • Children in Poverty: The 2015 report cites 132,000 Kansas kids in poverty, compared to 135,000 kids in 2014. That sounds like good news, right? Not when you evaluate Kansas’ trajectory. Percentages – not raw numbers – are the measure that allows us to compare statistically meaningful progress year-to-year. For Kansas, this means child poverty continues to linger at an alarming 19 percent. If nearly one in five Kansas kids living in poverty is interpreted as positive news, there’s a lack of understanding about what this important indicator means for the future of our state. Growing up in poverty is the single most important social determinant of health and a strong predictor of future economic security. The fact that Kansas again failed to make progress on improving the percentage of children living in poverty, after more than a decade-long climb, is cause for great concern.
  • Concentration of Children in High Poverty Areas: This indicator doesn’t lend itself to easy manipulation. No matter how you look at it – percentages, raw numbers, year-to-year, or the five-year trend – Kansas is moving in the wrong direction. In fact, Kansas had one of the largest increases in the percentage of children living in high-poverty areas in the entire country (Kansas tied for the 7th highest increase in the nation). This matters because kids in concentrated poverty areas are isolated from resources to promote healthy development (things like libraries, health care, transportation, or grocery stores). In turn, it impacts nearly every other indicator of well-being, putting the cycle of poverty into motion.
  • Economic Well-Being: Despite Kansas’ relatively high state rank and the nationally growing economy, well-being of Kansas kids worsened on three of four economic indicators. Additionally, our overall rank in economic well being dropped two spots from 2014. This is not the portrait of a state in recovery – especially when most economic indicators are improving nationally.

It’s important to understand data can be volatile from one year to the next, so a one-year change may not be meaningful.  That’s why we look at trends over time when determining whether something improved or worsened. When you look at the trends reflected on the 2015 National KIDS COUNT data sheet, Kansas saw eight indicators improve, seven indicators (including poverty) worsen, and one indicator stagnate.  In contrast, the nation fared better, with 10 improved indicators, 5 worsened indicators, and one unchanged indicator.

The bottom line: Kansas is not keeping pace with the nation.  If we remain committed to making Kansas the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family, it’s time for an honest conversation about what’s really happening in our communities, why it’s happening, and how to reverse these trends.

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