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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Children’s Cabinet asks for budget increase but fears cuts

Group to submit one budget with reductions and another with 50 percent spending increase

By Meg Wingerter | August 12, 2016

Children’s Cabinet asks for budget increase but fears cuts
Photo by Megan Hart/KHI News Service Janice Smith, executive director of the Kansas Children's Cabinet, addresses members Friday.

The Kansas Children’s Cabinet is throwing a Hail Mary budget request.

But its leaders acknowledge that the odds of scoring more funding – or even avoiding cuts – are low.

The Cabinet voted Friday afternoon to submit a budget that included 5 percent cuts to some programs, as requested by Shawn Sullivan, Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget director.

But members sent what amounted to a statement of protest by also approving a second budget that requested a 54-percent increase in spending on early childhood programs.

The Cabinet oversees Kansas’ share of the tobacco master settlement, an agreement in which major tobacco companies agreed to compensate states for costs related to smoking.

Janice Smith, executive director of the Cabinet, told the members that Sullivan had instructed her to submit plans by Monday to cut 5 percent from the early childhood block grant, as well as programs related to autism and improving the quality of child care. If implemented, the cuts requested by the administration would reduce funding by $833,181 in fiscal year 2018.

Those cuts would be on top of approximately $3.3 million in reductions made this year to Children’s Cabinet programs.

The early childhood block grant supports pre-kindergarten programs run by schools and nonprofits, as well as efforts to teach parents how to interact with their infants and toddlers in a way that promotes brain development. The autism diagnosis program pays to screen children for autism spectrum disorders and the child care quality program teaches providers to support families in a way that decreases the odds children will be abused.

Sullivan has said the fiscal year 2018 cuts may not be necessary. But he wants to be prepared should state revenue collections continue to fall short of projections.

Smith said she was surprised by Sullivan’s directive and “baffled” by the decision to cut programs for at-risk children. She said studies have shown that every $1 spent on effective early interventions generated approximately $11 in long-term savings.

“I’ve never received a mandate from anyone outside this group for a budget to look a certain way,” she said.

LaEtta Felter, an Olathe business owner and cabinet member appointed by Brownback, objected both to the budget office’s directive and to the cuts themselves.

“In my opinion, it’s neutering the authority of this cabinet,” she said. “I don’t think any one of us would rob from our children, and I consider this robbing from the most vulnerable children.”

Smith proposed a second budget that would restore all of those cuts, while also using federal funds targeted at low-income families. The cabinet unanimously voted to go a step further by adding another $10 million to the second budget for block grant programs.

Annie McKay, president and CEO of Kansas Action for Children, proposed adding the $10 million after noticing the second budget didn’t include the entire $59.1 million that the state expects to receive in tobacco settlement funds.

Cabinet chair Amanda Adkins, a Cerner executive and Brownback appointee, doesn’t support the cuts but said he conversations with administration officials have convinced her they’re likely.

“There probably – at least in the governor’s budget – are going to be some cuts. I know nobody likes that,” Adkins said.

Smith acknowledged the Cabinet’s preferred budget stood little chance of being funded. Still, she said, it was important to make a statement by submitting it.

“If the end result is going to be X, and we don’t really have a choice, at least we’ve had a small voice,” she said. “It can’t hurt to try, right?”