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March 3, 2011
TOPEKA The House social services budget subcommittee today tentatively recommended restoring funds for Early Head Start, after some committee members questioned whether they had enough data on the program's outcomes to justify doing so.
Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, said she wanted the data to justify the cost before recommending a proposed $24.5 million dollar grant program that would include Early Head Start. The program provides services for infants and toddlers up to age 3. Low-income pregnant women also are eligible and receive services such as training in parenting skills.
"I think that now, when dollars are limited and we are having to cut a lot of programs and seeing how difficult this is for communities, I think we need to be able to justify the dollars we're spending and show the results and the cost of the programs. This (proposal) just didn't give good enough data for me to be able to support it," Mast said.
Gov. Sam Brownback's recommended budget for fiscal 2012, which begins July 1,would have eliminated Early Head Start's funding entirely.
Since then, the Kansas Children’s Cabinet — which oversees distribution of tobacco-settlement funds to more than a dozen early childhood development initiatives — reached a compromise with Brownback officials that would combine:
• The Early Childhood Grant ($11.1 million)
• Smart Start Kansas ($7.4 million)
• Reading Roadmap ($6 million)
The two and a half hour committee meeting was attended by Rob Siedlecki, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services secretary, who said his agency supported the Children's Cabinet grant proposal.
"We're trying to put this big grant together," Siedlecki told KHI News Service after the meeting. "Our goal is to increase the number of fourth graders who can read at grade level, and we're willing to work with all parties to achieve that."
The committee's recommendation could go to the full Appropriations Committee as early as Thursday, pending a report on Early Head Start outcomes from SRS. Siedlecki said his agency would produce the report "as soon as possible — by tomorrow or first thing Monday."
Seven people testified on behalf of Early Head Start, including Tamika Sellars, a a mother who said she would have been forced to quit studying at Washburn University were it not for the program.
"Early Head Start is different from day care because (it emphasizes) education," Sellars said. "There was no way I was going to just put my child in a day care service where they're watching TV."
Dr. Dale Walker — a developmental psychologist from the University of Kansas' Juniper Gardens Children's Project — also testified. She cautioned against reducing Early Head Start's funding.
"Children who grow up in poverty — which are those children who are served in Early Head Start — often begin to diverge from a path of being ready and successful in school by the time that they are 3," she said. "Between 3 and 5 is when 50 percent of their brain is developing. If they do not have quality opportunities during that time, they are at risk for poor performance in school."