By Bryan Thompson
July 3, 2015

A Topeka-based children’s advocacy group says legislators’ inability to keep their hands out of a pot of money meant to permanently fund children’s programs in Kansas has drained that funding source nearly dry.

Kansas Action for Children said the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund was established to invest the proceeds of a multi-state tobacco settlement in programs to benefit the health and welfare of Kansas children.

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said lawmakers instead have tapped the KEY Fund again and again during the last 15 years, to the tune of approximately $200 million, to support other budget priorities.

“There certainly was a choice,” she said. “Policymakers had the choice to repeal the tax cuts that were passed in 2012 to avoid situations like this, where we are again short-circuiting investments that we made a commitment to many years ago. So, certainly, this is a choice. There were alternatives.”

Had that $200 million been invested, Cotsoradis said, it would have grown to at least $365 million by now.

Had the money been used for high-quality children’s programs, she said, it would have brought an estimated return of approximately $1.5 billion.

“On the low end, when we invest in little kids, we’re talking about $4 for every dollar we put in. On the higher end, it looks more like $9,” she said. “So we actually used the most conservative estimate to determine the $1.46 billion.”

As it now stands, Cotsoradis said the KEY Fund will be down to $140,000 by the start of fiscal year 2017, about a year from now.

“There was a vision in the beginning that these programs would be supported in perpetuity by this endowment,” she said. “By ‘sweeping’ these funds year after year, we’ve really compromised what was an important long-term vision for our state: really investing in young children so we could have a strong workforce.”

Cotsoradis said Kansas also faces an imminent reduction in the revenues it receives from the tobacco master settlement fund.

“It is just around the corner,” she said. “This is the last budget cycle where we will have two portions to that payment. That means we are facing a reduction of about 24 percent, beginning in 2018.

“We will not have enough resources in the Children’s Initiatives Fund to sustain early childhood programs at level funding, and most of those programs have been at level funding for six or more years. So, even sustaining at the current level will be impossible with the KEY Fund being empty.”

Read more from the Kansas Health Institute.