by Annie McKay, President and CEO, Kansas Action for Children
When your state faces the possibility of losing funding for your entire early childhood education system, you must pull out all the stops to protect it. For Kansas Action for Children (KAC), that included accessing Rapid Response from the Alliance for Early Success. Our partners at the Committee for Economic Development, Council for a Strong America, Center for Michigan, and Arizona’s First Things First came to our aid in our moment of crisis. Read on to learn how.
After enacting historically unaffordable tax policy in 2012, Kansas lost billions in revenue. Last year, after exhausting almost all short-term band aids and gimmicks, our governor shocked policymakers on both sides of the aisle when he proposed taking the funds from Kansas’ thriving early childhood system to fill the latest budget gap.
In the weeks leading up to the 2016 legislative session, KAC assumed the state’s Children’s Initiatives Fund (CIF) could likely face cuts, but the Governor’s proposal was unprecedented. He wanted to permanently sell the CIF’s sole revenue source (the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement) to Wall Street investors for pennies on the dollar, in exchange for a quick influx of cash. It’s a process known as securitization and, by law, requires the permanent dismantling of the CIF.
KAC needed help to combat such a proposal. Although policymakers rarely want cuts to programs that serve vulnerable babies and toddlers, three factors put KAC on red alert. First, securitization was a complex issue on which very few legislators had background knowledge. Second, the Governor’s strategy was disturbingly lacking in transparency; he significantly misrepresented his intention in the original proposal. And, finally, the state was (and remains) in fiscal crisis. Since 2012, Kansas tax policy has inflicted nine rounds of budget cuts, three credit rating downgrades, and the accumulation of record high debt. By 2016, there were few options left outside of comprehensive tax reform. Lawmakers were heavily pressured to find resources to make ends meet—even if only temporarily.
KAC reached out to the Alliance for Early Success with a rapid-response request, and it paid off.
- The Committee for Economic Development (CED) provided messaging and talking points that KAC and our partners used to successfully educate policymakers about the importance of preserving the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement’s dedication to early childhood education programs in Kansas.
- Council for a Strong America’s two organizations – Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, and Mission: Readiness – were also helpful in Kansas, where law enforcement is strong and where we have three big military bases. Retired Marine General Bloomer who lives in Wichita (home of the then-Chairman of Ways and Means) wrote an op-ed that was printed in the Wichita Eagle; former General Schmader, who is now a farmer in Kansas, wrote a letter to the editor that was printed in the Kansas City Star (read by the Governor); and former General Ed Gerhardt wrote an op-ed for the Topeka Capital-Journal (newspaper in the state’s capital city) where he lives and is a classroom teacher and principal.
- Additionally, Phil Power at the Center for Michigan and Sam Leyvas from Arizona’s First Things First shared messages and tools they had created, which were helpful since these two states have similar political and economic conditions.
By elevating diverse voices and using multiple messaging frames, KAC’s campaign to “#SaveTheCIF” resonated across many different audiences. RR helped keep the CIF intact at the conclusion of the 2016 Legislative Session and the subsequent special session in June. By 3:00 a.m. on the final day of the legislative session, one reporter tweeted from the Senate floor: “The idea of selling off the tobacco settlement/[CIF] has these guys absolutely terrified.” The legislature unanimously rejected three separate CIF attacks, even after the Governor identified it as his “#1 preference” to temporarily fix balancing the state budget.
Unfortunately, Kansas’ fiscal problems still dominate the legislature’s work in 2017, and dismantling the CIF is again at the top of the Governor’s agenda. But this time, we were ready. During the Fall of 2016 in preparation for the legislative session, KAC continued to build upon our campaign to save the CIF. We have used the RR messaging and talking points in developing our strategic communications, and in meetings with newspaper editorial boards and policymakers—many of whom were new after the November elections. We also engaged CED to secure a national business leader—Larry Jensen, president and CEO of Cushman Wakefield | Commercial Advisors—to speak at our annual Symposium for Early Success in February 2017. Mr. Jensen shared his message about the importance of a qualified and educated workforce in a business’s decision to locate to a new community, and the pay-off of “building children” is easier than “fixing men.” , Because this has become such a high profile issue, a record number of policymakers, chamber of commerce executives, business leaders, school superintendents, and early childhood advocates RSVP’d to the event. Even the Governor’s budget director recently acknowledged that there appears to be very little appetite for selling the CIF revenue in 2017.
Rapid response support from the Alliance was a fundamental component of our multi-year campaign to save the CIF and early childhood education programs in Kansas.
Through our partnership with the Alliance, we have a strong relationship with CED, which we wouldn’t have had before. This allows us to access national expertise that lends credibility to our state-level efforts and continues to elevate our conversation around the importance of high-quality early education in Kansas.