By Tim Carpenter
June 13, 2017

A state-by-state assessment of the well-being of children Tuesday raised the ranking of Kansas to 15th in the nation due to decline in the percentage of children living in poverty and a sharp reduction in those experiencing food insecurity during the previous year.

Gov. Sam Brownback said the administration’s reform of welfare benefits available to families and investment in teaching at-risk children to read contributed to an improved ranking from 17th last year. In 2010, Brownback campaigned for governor on a platform that emphasized reduction in the percentage of kids living in poverty.

The number has fallen from 134,000, or 19 percent, in 2011 to 122,000, or 17 percent, in 2015, based on the 2017 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The figure for Kansas children living in poverty dropped from 126,000 in 2014, but remained substantially above the 100,000 documented for 2008.

In 2015, 20 percent of Kansas children were found to have experienced food insecurity in the previous year — down from 25 percent in 2014.

“Everyone agrees that our children deserve a path out of poverty, and that’s why I’m heartened that childhood poverty has decreased,” Brownback said.

In this key broad measure, Kansas’ reduction mirrored declines of 2 percentage points in Colorado and Missouri since 2011. The reductions in Oklahoma and Nebraska were 1 percentage point in that period.

Here are the latest standings:

Colorado: 15 percent

Nebraska and Kansas: 17 percent

Missouri: 20 percent

Oklahoma: 22 percent

Kids Count relies upon 16 indicators to rank each state in areas of family, health, education and economic well-being. A majority of the statistics develop a trend line by tracking indicators from 2009 to 2015. Lapse in time required to gather and process information from 50 states prevents inclusion of few statistics from 2016.

Annie McKay, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said the latest installment marked a decline to 167,000 between 2014 and 2015 in the number of Kansas children living in families where no parent held a full-time, year-round job. In terms of children 0-5 years of age, the number of Kansans in poverty dropped in that period from 57,000 to 46,000.

“The data reveal strong economic recovery post-recession for families during a time when the Kansas safety net was stronger than it is today,” McKay said. “Following the adoption of new policies that restrict access to the safety net, coupled with reductions in early childhood investments, we expect to see a decline in well-being in future state profiles.”

McKay said this year’s report provided snapshots of poverty in Kansas before passage of bills in 2015 and 2016 by the Legislature and signed by Brownback that weakened the state’s safety net.

The Brownback administration took action to restrict access to federal funding in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to an extent that merely 8,000 of the 122,000 children in poverty receive TANF aid, McKay said.

Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said the so-called Kansas HOPE Act linking government food, cash and child care benefits to job training or employment by low-income adults caring for children was a proven success in promoting dignity.

“We hear success stories every day from clients who walk through our doors feeling helpless,” Gilmore said, “but with encouragement, employment training and skills-building instruction, they are obtaining careers to support their families.”

In the latest report, the proportion of Kansas children in free- and reduced-lunch programs dipped from 49.9 percent in 2015 to 49.2 percent in 2016.

Read more from the Topeka Capital Journal.