KHI News Service

Children’s Cabinet altering grant criteria

For about a third of grants, more emphasis on childhood literacy

By Dave Ranney | October 30, 2012

The Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund is changing its criteria for deciding how to distribute $17 million in early childhood development block grants.

The grants, funded by the state’s tobacco master-settlement revenues, will represent a significant portion of the approximately $56 million distributed annually by the cabinet for various child development programs, ranging from newborn health screenings to mental health services.

Jim Redmon, the cabinet’s executive director said the cabinet intends to target the block grants at nine communities with the goals of improving school reading scores and health indicators.

He said there also would be more emphasis on “public-private partnerships.”

“We’d like to see both the organizations that actually do the work and community leaders being involved in looking over the outcomes in their communities and helping determine what’s working and what isn’t working,” he said. “Not just on the state level but on a local level as well.”

Targeted communities

The changes are in keeping with Gov. Sam Brownback’s campaign pledge to increase fourth-grade reading levels.

Five of the Children’s Cabinet’s nine board members are appointed by the governor.

“A focus on the early years of life is the center of policy and programming discussions of the early childhood community in Kansas. Researchers also point to the importance of pre-literacy and early literacy skills in improving reading outcomes for children in the primary years…the Children’s Cabinet is particularly interested in longitudinal outcomes, particularly strategies that prepare at-risk children for entering school ready to learn and improved fourth grade reading outcomes."

The nine targeted communities are the school districts in Atchison, Coffeyville, Dodge City, Fort Scott, Kansas City, Topeka, Ulysses, Wichita, and Stanton County.

The grants will be for one year, starting Jan.1. Applications are due Nov. 7. The maximum award per grant will be $3 million, according to the request for proposals issued by the Children's Cabinet.

Redmon said the Cabinet plans to award the grants in December, using a point-based grading system that takes into account:

• the evaluation methods the grant recipients will use (25 points),

• evidence-based practices (20 points),

• public-private partnerships (20 points),

• needs assessment (15 points), and

• the implementation plan (15 points).

Applications from the nine target areas will be given 35 points each to help them achieve winning scores.

Losing points

The changes mean that some programs that have been awarded grants in the past likely won’t be funded in 2013.

Joni Breidenthal, project director for the Kansas Early Learning Collaborative.

View larger photo

“If you’re not one of the targeted areas, you lose 35 points right off the bat,” said Joni Breidenthal, project director for the Kansas Early Learning Collaborative (KELC), a group that includes Child Care Aware of Kansas, the Kansas Children’s Service League, the Kansas Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, the Kansas Head Start Association, the Kansas Division for Early Childhood, and the Kansas Parents as Teachers Association.

Breidenthal said the collaborative had spent the last four years developing and coordinating early childhood programs in 12 counties.

Eight of the 12, she said, were not among the nine areas targeted by the Children’s Cabinet. The eight counties are: Cherokee, Crawford, Ellis, Finney, Harvey, Johnson, Leavenworth, Saline.

The four counties served by the collaborative that were included on the Children’s Cabinet’s preferred-funding list are Ford, Montgomery, Shawnee, and Wyandotte.

'Worked out of a job'

“It makes me sad to think that we’ve put all this effort into building services in these 12 communities and now, for eight of them, much of the funding for those services is going to be slipping away,” Breidenthal said.

“In a way, you could say we’ve worked our way out of a job,” she said. “We’ve helped put all these systems in place, we’ve developed all these collaborations, and now the state is saying, ‘OK, that’s good, now let’s move on to these other outcomes in these other communities.’”

In each of the last four years, the collaborative has received between $5 million and $6 million in early childhood grants. But Breidenthal said the group wouldn’t apply for a 2013 grant because its members are statewide associations and the grants are intended for community-level programs.

Nancy Keel, executive director of the Kansas Parents as Teachers Association, said she expected the collaborative would disband.

“It’ll be gone,” she said. “The money is not going to be there for us to keep doing what we’ve been doing at the state level. I don’t know that that’s a bad thing or a good thing. It’s change. We’ll be going from a system that’s serving certain groups in certain areas to one that serves other groups in other areas. It won’t be as comprehensive as it is now, it’ll be more concentrated.”

The changes in the grant criteria, Keel said, also would mean less money for long-standing initiatives aimed at increasing quality childcare for at-risk children.

“I think we’re seeing a move away from funding quality initiatives in early childhood development and child care and more toward working with parents and school readiness,” she said. “That’s a different emphasis.”

'Wouldn't assume anything'

Redmon said the Cabinet’s new point system would favor the nine school-district-based areas, but that it was not intended to exclude other grantees.

“At this point,” he said, “I’d have to say we’re not sure how many of the nine areas are going to be funded. I wouldn’t say they’re shoo-ins. I wouldn’t assume anything.”

Donna Hudson-Hamilton runs the Hays (Ellis County) school district’s Early Childhood Connections program, one of the currently funded programs that are not in one of the target areas.

“We’re moving forward,” she said. “We’ll be applying for one of the grants. We feel — and we think the data supports — that many of the services we provide have an impact on school readiness and fit within those (criteria) being targeted.”

Hudson-Hamilton oversees the region’s Early Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Head Start, and Healthy Families programs as well as several initiatives designed to improve access to quality childcare.

She said the combined programs serve children in more than 500 families.

Hudson-Hamilton said she hopes the early childhood programs would win grant funding because of their ties to school readiness and literacy. But she said she thought it was less likely that the childcare programs would meet the new criteria.

“We’re looking for other sources of funding,” she said, noting that the childcare initiatives affected children in about 350 of the 500 families her programs serve.

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