February 7, 2016

The governor’s plan to sweep $57 million from a fund earmarked for children’s programs into the state general fund thankfully has hit a significant roadblock in the Kansas Legislature.

Gov. Brownback’s latest proposal to deal with the state’s ongoing revenue shortfall included plans to eliminate the Children’s Initiatives Fund created as part of the nationwide tobacco settlement. Although the governor said that all of the children’s programs that currently benefit from the CIF still would be fully funded, that money no longer would be set aside specifically for those programs. Children’s advocates are understandably concerned that children’s programs will find it difficult to compete with other demands for general fund money. It seems obvious that if the governor didn’t need to use the CIF money for other purposes, there would be no reason to take it away from the children’s fund.

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee passed a budget plan that scraps the governor’s sweep of children’s funds. Noting that a recent efficiency study highlighted the CIF as one of the state’s most transparent and efficient uses of money, the committee canceled the sweep of most of the CIF money. However, it still would allow the transfer of $7.2 million from the fund which would be offset with federal money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant.

Lawrence residents may have read recently about plans to shift funding for the local Parents as Teachers program to TANF. Instead of taking former CIF money back from the general fund to cover that program, Brownback called for replacing those funds with TANF money. The only problem is that only families that meet low-income guidelines set for TANF recipients could continue to participate in Parents as Teachers without paying a fee. The program, which works with parents and provides an opportunity to address many issues that could impact a child’s development, currently is available to everyone at no cost.

Not only would setting the income requirements likely limit participation in this important program, it also would create new administrative expenses. Kansas Action for Children estimates that the added costs of administering Parents as Teachers — the need to verify family incomes and bill families who would have to pay — would amount to about $1 million. That’s $1 million that would be taken away from children’s services in the state.

Hopefully, the House Appropriations Committee’s plan uses TANF money in a way that doesn’t create new problems or barriers for Parents as Teachers or any other program currently funded by the children’s fund.

The battle for the Children’s Initiatives Fund is not over. The Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled on Monday to consider a different budget bill that includes the $57 million CIF sweep. Hopefully its members also will see the wisdom of preserving a program that was founded to benefit the children of Kansas and has effectively used its funding to promote that goal.

Read more from the Lawrence Journal World.