By Patrick Lowry
July 1, 2016
The Hays USD 489 Parents As Teachers program is in the process of cutting up to 75 percent of the families it serves.
The reason? Just another road apple compliments of our state’s elected leaders. In order to afford the unsustainable income tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Kansans, the governor and Legislature repeatedly have raided funds meant for critical state functions.
The Department of Transportation has been the biggest target to fill the gaping and self-inflicted revenue gaps. Welfare programs, mental health, hospitals, schools, universities, arts groups, retirees and economic development programs all have suffered reductions to maintain the income tax breaks nobody was lobbying for — at least publicly. The state even passed a record-breaking sales tax hike last year to plug the holes — to no avail.
Perhaps the most morally reprehensible cuts are being shouldered by the most innocent: Young Kansas children.
The Children’s Initiative Fund, created in 1999 to promote the health and welfare of Kansas children, has become just another cash source for Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative allies who won’t admit their tax policies are abject failures. The CIF, which is not funded with tax dollars but with tobacco settlement money, has become an all-too-frequent victim of state government theft.
“Nearly half of the $60 million originally intended for children’s programs in 2016 is instead now paying for the state’s perpetual budget crisis,” wrote Annie McKay, CEO and executive director of Kansas Action for Children, in a release last week. “In total, Gov. Brownback has taken well over $100 million worth of investments in the education and health of Kansas’ youngest children since taking office.”
Parents As Teacher funding, which is $7.2 million for this year, was swept but replaced with money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families account.
There are two problems with that accounting maneuver. First off, we believe TANF money should be used for more immediate crisis situations such as food or shelter. But as we’ve learned from this administration, which brags of removing half the recipients from welfare rolls simply by imposing overly restrictive guidelines, compassion and common sense no longer guide the program. Second, by using TANF dollars it becomes a program solely for those in financial straits.
Parents As Teachers historically has been focused on early childhood development and giving parents tools to help prepare their kids for school. It also “has been so beneficial in locating children with delays and then giving them early intervention and having those things corrected before they get to school, which is big savings down the road,” said Joan Dunn, coordinator for USD 489 Early Childhood Connections.
“It has been quite devastating to our program and to the families,” Dunn said. “Parenting knowledge is not necessarily related to your education or your income.”
That would appear to be an obvious truth. Unfortunately, state lawmakers don’t agree.
And so USD 489’s extremely successful Parents As Teachers program will reach only a fraction of the families it used to serve. For every developmental delay that goes undetected and every additional child who shows up at kindergarten unprepared, the long-term costs will be astronomical compared to the pennies being saved today.
Unfortunately, that’s Kansas in 2016. State leaders have no plan for the future. Instead, they’re demolishing current programs and services in order to pay yesterday’s bills.
Being willing to sacrifice the future of even one Kansas child to preserve today’s tax breaks should be a criminal offense. Time in jail is what these lawmakers deserve, not more time “serving” the public.