In Kansas, special fund delivers millions of dollars to children’s programs

Lost in the din of Kansas’ recent budget woes, an innovative mechanism is quietly funding dozens of early-childhood education and wellness programs across the state. The Children’s Initiatives Fund, Kansas Endowment for Youth and the state’s Children’s Cabinet were created in 1999 to support programs promoting the health and welfare of Kansas children using the state’s share of the national tobacco Master Settlement Fund.

Settlement payments are deposited in the endowment, which then distributes money to the Initiatives Fund.

Disbursements began in 2001. In fiscal year 2016, $45.2 million was disbursed from the endowment to the Children’s Initiatives Fund; in FY 2017, $35 million was allocated, but another $13 million was “swept” by legislators for other purposes. Of that, however, $11 million was replaced by funds reallocated from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund.
One of the programs administered by the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund is the Kansas Early Childhood Block Grant. These funds are distributed through grants to school districts, child care centers and homes, Head Start sites and community programs that provide research-based child development services for at-risk infants and toddlers and their families. Money also goes to local preschool programs for 3- and 4-year olds.
The block grant process is driven by accountability measures and research-based programming, with a focus on at-risk children and underserved areas. At least 30 percent of the block grant funding is set aside for evidence-based programs for at-risk infants, toddlers and expecting parents.
Begun in 2009, the Early Childhood Block Grant has been very successful because it’s flexible, yet carries a clear set of rules and performance-based measurements, and is based on a community’s assessment of its own needs, says Children’s Initiative Fund executive director Janice Smith.
For example, Smith says, among the block-grant recipients in Wichita are a private child care company serving children from low-income households and a consortium of community groups (including a local school and a YMCA) that provide family and parenting programs; while in western Kansas, a grant recipient serves 15 rural counties connecting people with resources and teaching parenting skills.
“When you’re dealing with children, whether in an urban setting or a rural setting, you’re looking at the same set of standards [such as literacy rates],” she adds. “It’s very tied to what the community decides. It’s not top-down, but bottom-up; it’s a very grassroots approach.”
The Children’s Cabinet, a committee consisting of legislative and gubernatorial appointees as well as ex-officio members, advises Kansas’ elected leaders on the uses of money credited to the Children’s Initiatives Fund.
This 15-member group also evaluates programs using Children’s Initiatives Fund money; assists the governor in developing and implementing a coordinated, comprehensive delivery system to serve children and families of Kansas; and supports the prevention of child abuse and neglect through the Children’s Trust Fund.
When this cabinet was first formed, Smith says, money was spent under looser definitions of which ages constituted “children.” But the emphasis has since been on reaching young people at the earliest stages of development.
“As brain-science results came in [showing the importance of early intervention], the focus shifted from keeping kids out of the justice system to early-childhood education because of the cost savings,” Smith says. 
“That’s where you get a lot of return [for the investment].”

 

This article was written as part of the 2016 Midwestern Legislative Conference Chair’s Initiative of Wisconsin Rep. Joan Ballweg. This initiative is focused on state policies that strengthen families, improve opportunities for children, and yield better longer-term outcomes. CSG Midwest provides staff support to the MLC.
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Stateline Midwest: December 20162.59 MB