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Short on Big Wins the 2019 Session, Kansas Allies Log Incremental Progress and Lay Foundations for a Bright Future

This year and this legislative session, the state took its first big steps down the road to recovery. While the path is long and the challenges daunting, Gov. Laura Kelly and legislators made concrete progress for Kansas children and families.

KAC set a bold agenda for the future of Kansas, one that elevated children and families, while ensuring a sound funding structure to support them for years to come. We focused on highlighting opportunities to remove barriers created by systemic racism facing communities of color. We reached out to audiences across the state, built unlikely champions, and positioned ourselves to create transformational change.

We took big steps.

Step 1: Elevating Early Education

High-quality early education is one of Kansas Action for Children’s signature priorities, but this year we went about our advocacy in a different way. The state’s new governor, Laura Kelly, is a longtime supporter of our core issues, but she’s also from a different political party than leadership in the state Senate and House chambers.

That means we worked directly with her staff and agency leaders, but we also saw a need for broader education efforts. That’s why we screened the documentary “No Small Matter,” which shows the opportunities and challenges facing early education in America. Our inaugural event March 18 brought together 150 lawmakers, children’s advocates, early childhood educators, and Gov. Kelly. We subsequently brought the film to Lawrence and Johnson County, and we have additional screenings planned across the state.

We continued our efforts at the statehouse as well. The Early Learning Caucus — a bipartisan, bicameral group of state legislators — hosted a series of educational forums throughout the session. The KAC-supported group shares the importance of investments in early learning with peers and advocates for kids and families.

Step 2: Making Important Investments

Although this year’s budget ended up in a battle to expand Medicaid, a battle we lost by one vote, it still includes a raft of important, enduring investments. Topline results included:

  • $51 million-plus in total for the Children’s Initiatives Fund, with increases included.
  • $90 million extra to K-12 education, covering the cost of inflation and potentially resolving the state Supreme Court order to adequately fund public education.
  • Matching funds to meet federal requirements for the Family First Prevention Services Act — allowing flexibility for the state to fund prevention services keeping families intact and kids out of foster care.
  • 42 additional caseworkers approved for the Department of Children and Families to address the growing needs of foster care administration.
  • $3 million added to Medicaid dental reimbursement rates in Fiscal Year 2020, which will help expand access to care.

Step 3: Cultivating Capitol Conversations for Kids

Kansas Action for Children advocated in House and Senate tax committees for the restoration of a refundable food sales tax credit program. By the end of the session, it was a frequent subject in tax-related conversations.

KAC President and CEO Annie McKay testified in favor of a bill that would create savings accounts for every Kansas child starting at birth. This policy would help remove obstacles to wealth accumulation faced by families of color and give families an important savings tool. Annie also worked with the chairman of the House Rural Revitalization Committee to coordinate an entire hearing on the needs of Kansas kids in rural areas, testifying that child care assistance and Medicaid expansion are opportunities to address dwindling rural population and structural barriers faced by communities of color.

We anticipate these conversations will lead to continued discussions in the next session and future policy changes.

Step 4: Advocating Agency Rebuilding

The legislative session might be finished, but governing continues 365 days a year. Much of the work is accomplished through state executive branch agencies. Gov. Kelly’s analysis of those agencies showed they had far bigger needs than anticipated — in staffing, contracts, and policies, to name a few.

KAC has worked as a trusted thought partner and consultant over these months, talking to agencies and collaborating on new initiatives. Kansas is working under a new plan to allocate additional federal dollars from the Child Care and Development Block Grant, helping increase the number of families using the child care assistance program to access and afford child care.

With appointments to both the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Gov. Kelly’s newly established Education Council, KAC president and CEO Annie McKay is working out-of-session to focus efforts on improving the early childhood system in our state and craft a new vision for Kansas kids.

Steps to Come

As busy as this year has been, much remains to be done. We look forward to advocating for these issues now and into next session.

Health Care: Medicaid expansion has been increasing in general popularity and voter support for years — and Gov. Kelly supports the policy. However, legislative leadership held the line this session and blocked efforts to pass a bill covering 150,000 Kansans. We know the plan will return in 2020, and KAC will continue to collaborate with organizations across the state to advance this important change.

Taxes: Kansas is living proof that bad tax policy ideas can be defeated, but never go away. Gov. Kelly has called for a wide-ranging examination of the state’s tax code. That means more discussion on the state’s tax structure and more opportunities to talk about how we support needed investments. KAC has played the lead advocacy role over the years in drawing attention to the connections between responsible tax policy and the needs of Kansas kids, and we’ll continue to do so into the future.

Family Supports: KAC has highlighted early education and health needs. But we’re also focused on programs — such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and paid family leave — that lift families out of poverty and provide crucial economic security.

Unfortunately, current law excludes many children and parents from receiving the resources they need. That has to change, and we will work to do so.

John Wilson

Vice President

Kansas Action for Children

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