By Judy Sherard
November 24, 2015

With the latest round of mid-year cuts and transfers announced this month, Hays early childhood programs will lose more than $50,000.

“I’m happy we’re continuing to get funding, but I’m disappointed money for young children is being allocated elsewhere,” said Donna Hudson-Hamilton, Early Childhood Connections director.

“These programs produce some of the most impressive early childhood outcomes in Kansas, and they are being sacrificed for a failing tax plan that has spiraled out of control,” Kansas Action for Children President and CEO Shannon Cotsoradis said in a news release.

“Money put into early education has a great payoff in helping our children be successful in later life,” Hays Area Children’s Center Executive Director Susan Bowles said.

Dana Stanton, USD 489 Early Childhood grants coordinator, said she received an email Oct. 27 “telling us the amount and that it would be for 18 months.”

Previously, grant money had been allotted for the 12-month calendar year.

A letter dated the next day verified the $764,656 amount.

In early November, Stanton was told there would be a $9 million reduction in the 2016 block grant.

The $9 million being swept from the Children’s Initiative Fund was part of a $123 million round of budget adjustments by the state, according to a KAC news release.

The CIF is funded through the tobacco settlement payments that flow through the Kansas Endowment for Youth. The amount fluctuates, and the state won’t receive the first estimates until February “when half of the dollars have already been spent,” the news release said.

The $9 million CIF sweep means a funding cut of approximately 6.5 percent in fiscal year 2016 and approximately a 3 percent additional cut in funds in fiscal year 2017.

Stanton said after hearing that, she adopted a wait and see attitude.

She didn’t have to wait long. A week later came the announcement the local Early Childhood Block Grant would be $713,044 — $51,612 less than the first amount announced.

“That reduction won’t affect any programs,” Stanton said.

“Services such as staff development will be cut. For us, the priority is continuing services to children.”

The early childhood grant program was revamped about two years ago changing from Smart Start to Early Childhood Block Grants, Stanton said.

Local programs could determine how best to use Smart Start Grant money for early childhood education, but the block grant has stricter guidelines.

Those funds must “be used for 100 percent at-risk (children), and to improve fourth-grade reading skills,” Stanton said.

The objectives are clearer and all schools have the same objectives.

Stanton said she could see how the new guidelines make it easier to evaluate.

Besides ECC, some of the grant money helps fund Healthy Start, Hays Area Children’s Center screenings, Hays Interagency Coordinating Council, Parents and Children Together, High Plains Mental Health Center, Hays Medical Center and Child Care Aware of Northwest Kansas.

“We serve lots of people and work with a lot of agencies,” Stanton said.

Bowles said because of the cuts, HACC will reduce staff development and training.

“It’s better to make a cut there than in staff,” she said.

The children’s center will continue to have staff development, though. Bowles said she has told state officials training and professional development are more expensive for those in western Kansas because they have to travel to Topeka, often staying overnight. State officials are looking into having more training sessions in this part of the state.

The Kansas Endowment for Youth is bankrupt, with no safety net to protect children’s programs if tobacco settlement dollars are lower than expected, the news release said.

“These financial gimmicks are more irresponsible than payday lending,” Cotsoradis said.

“The state is borrowing against something it doesn’t even know it has and, ultimately, children will pay the price. These cuts will reduce funding in 20 programs across Kansas. Unfortunately, this is probably only the beginning.”

Bowles agrees.

“I’m more concerned where we’re going in the future,” she said.

“I feel good about now. I’m very worried about 18 months from now,” Stanton said.

Read more from the Hays Daily News.