TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Children’s advocates pushed back Wednesday against the governor’s efforts to take nearly $32 million away from a fund set up to finance early education programs, saying the move would weaken the fund’s long-term sustainability and could lead to severe cuts.
The Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund was established as a long-term reserve to provide funding for early education programs in 1999. But it has been repeatedly tapped by lawmakers for other purposes, and the latest cut could threaten programs like early autism diagnosis and grants for preschool education, said Shannon Cotsoradis, CEO of the Kansas Action for Children.
“It jeopardizes a long tradition of investing early in Kansas. For every $1 invested in early education, at least $7 down the road are saved in further cost from grade retention, crime and other public assistance,” Cotsoradis told the committee.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed transferring $31.8 million from the fund into the general state budget over the next three fiscal years, in part to help cover an estimated $710 million deficit in this fiscal year’s budget and the one beginning July 1.
Kansas Budget Director Shawn Sullivan told the committee that the budget transfers would not lead to children’s program cuts and would only appropriate excess funds.
But Cotsoradis, whose group advocates for policies to improve children’s health and education, noted that the fund has lost $147 million since its inception to plug budget holes or fund non-educational programs.
Under the governor’s recommendation, the fund would be left with a balance of less than $110,000 in each of the next three years. That means that the fluctuations that regularly occur in its revenue stream could suddenly put the fund in the red, triggering immediate cuts to programs, Cotsoradis said.
The Kansas Endowment for Education is funded from the roughly $60 million that Kansas receives each year from a settlement between tobacco manufacturers and the 50 states. But payments given to each state are determined on an annual basis and fluctuate based on several factors, such as the market share of the four biggest cigarette manufacturers in the respective state that year.
“When it comes in higher than expected, (lawmakers are) very quick to sweep it away. And then when it comes in less than expected, we’re very quick to cut programs,” said Cotsoradis.
The proposed transfers also come at a crucial time for the fund, Cotsoradis said. She noted that a portion of the settlement will stop paying out in 2017, dropping the fund’s revenues by as much as 20 percent, and setting up a projected 2018 shortfall of about $11.5 million.
The fund was set up to act as a trust, directing revenues from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement toward early-education programs. The settlement required the four major U.S. tobacco companies to compensate states for medical expenses due to smoking-related ailments in the form of annual payments totaling $206 billion nationwide over 25 years.
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