KHI News Service

Children’s Cabinet sets spending priorities

By Dave Ranney | December 03, 2012

A panel charged with advising the Governor’s Office on how best to spend the state’s tobacco-settlement revenues today endorsed 11 programs, citing their effectiveness in promoting early childhood development.

Some other currently funded programs didn’t fare as well.

“We’ve had to set priorities,” said Amanda Adkins, chair of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet. “And those priorities were based on their being focused on early childhood – prenatal to age 5 – and their having met our base performance criteria.”

Eight programs, she said, did not receive a top-tier recommendation:

• Child Care Assistance Program.

• Children’s Mental Health Initiative.

• Family Centered Systems of Care.

• Family Preservation Services.

• Newborn Screening.

• SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Network Grant.

• Smart Start Kansas.

• Smoking Prevention Grants.

Adkins said those programs were valid and in many cases popular, but that their ties with early childhood development were not as direct or measurable as the others.

The smoking prevention grants, for example, are aimed at teenagers rather than infants and toddlers.

Also, cabinet members said some of the programs that did not make the priority list (Newborn Screening and Smart Start Kansas) now have access to alternate funding streams or, at least in part, could be included in budget for either the Department for Children and Families (Child Care Assistance Program) or the Department of Health and Environment (SIDS Network Grant).

The programs endorsed by the Cabinet were:

• Children’s Cabinet Accountability Fund

• Childcare Quality Initiatives

• Early Childhood Block Grants

• Early Childhood Block Grants – Autism

• Early Head Start

• Healthy Start Home Visitors

• Infants and Toddlers Program,

• Newborn Hearing Aid Loaner Program,

• Parents as Teachers

• Pre-K Program

• Reading Roadmap.

Adkins said she and Children’s Cabinet Executive Director Jim Redmon planned to share the group’s recommendation with Gov. Sam Brownback this afternoon.

She said they would shy away from saying how much should or should not be spent on the initiatives.

“Today, the focus was more about priorities than it was about dollar figures,” Adkins told KHI News Service after the panel's morning meeting.

KHI News Service

Christy Schunn, executive director of the SIDS Network of Kansas, left, and Shalae Harris, a member of the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Infant Mortality, compare notes during a Monday meeting of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet. Harris and Schunn are from Wichita.

View larger photo

The priority-setting was driven by concerns that an ongoing legal dispute between 32 states, including Kansas, and the nation’s major cigarette companies could result in the companies being allowed to withhold tens of millions of dollars in payments.

The dispute has been the subject of a federal arbitration hearing since June.

“Because there is arbitration, there is a lack of clarity around a specific dollar amount,” Adkins said. “The funding level will be less but we don’t know how much less.”

Adkins presented the Cabinet with scenarios based on the state receiving either $12 million, $25 million, or $44 million – all of which would be significant reductions from the $56 million in tobacco dollars earmarked for children's programs this fiscal year.

The $12 million scenario was not discussed; the $25 million scenario was briefly mentioned.

After the eight programs were pulled from the top-tier proposal, the $44 million scenario dropped to $37 million.

“I feel very uncomfortable with this,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, a member of the cabinet and chief executive with Kansas Action for Childrenk, a Topeka-based advocacy group. “This was a fair and full dialogue about the priorities of the Cabinet and what members feel those dollars should be invested in. So, now, we’ll have to see whether the Legislature heeds those recommendations and whether the governor builds them into his own budget. The Cabinet did its job today – as painful as it was.”

The governor is expected to make public his budget recommendations when the Legislature convenes in January.

About 40 people – a mix of lobbyists, child advocates and program directors – attended the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours.

Adkins announced that she was developing a plan for encouraging “public-private partnerships” that would enhance the state’s early childhood development initiatives.

“I’d like to have it put together by March or April,” she said.

Five of the Cabinet’s nine voting members attended the meeting. Present were Adkins, Cotsoradis, Jonathan Frieden, Shari Weber, and Sen. Terrie Huntington, a Fairway Republican; absent were Mary Cohen, William Nelson, Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Kansas City Democrat, and Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat.

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