Early care and education advocates in Kansas are celebrating a budget victory this year in what has become a tough climate for public investments of any kind. The cause for celebration is the surprising veto of a provision to sweep $5 million from early childhood programs.
While Kansans have traditionally prided themselves in the high quality of education, infrastructure and care for the less fortunate, a dramatic shift toward small government and lower taxes led by Gov. Sam Brownback has taken a significant toll in recent years on public structures and has limited the public conversation on good policy and investing in future prosperity.
A lack of transparency surrounding the amount of annual tobacco payments, which are the primary source of funding for early care and education programs, has complicated the appropriations process during the past three years. A pattern emerged in which official estimates anticipated a small payment, leading to a state budget that provides only flat funding for early care and education programs. However, when the appropriations process was almost complete the state received a surprisingly large payment from tobacco companies, and this money was swept into the State General Fund while policymakers boasted that early childhood programs went unharmed.
This year, advocates went to great lengths — even taking the Kansas Attorney General to court — to receive information about the anticipated tobacco payments. This enabled us to anticipate a higher payment and to prepare grassroots partners and policymakers to protect funding for children. When key policymakers on the budget conference committee were successful in making a last-minute move to sweep $5 million from the endowment to provide additional funding economic development, early care and education advocates went to work.
After an intense campaign involving grassroots outreach, earned media, social media and targeted outreach to the governor’s staff, Gov. Brownback announced his veto of the endowment sweep and his support for early care and education funding.
While we still have a challenge to restore appropriate funding for early childhood programs after six years of flat funding, the governor’s veto gives us a glimmer of hope for his support of early care and education in the future.
-April Holman, Executive Director
Kansas Coalition for School Readiness
(June 5, 2014)