THE EARLIEST YEARS OF A CHILD'S LIFE ARE THE MOST CRUCIAL for developing a strong foundation for later learning and growing into their full potential.

Brain research shows us that over 1 million new neural connections are created each second in the first five years of life. This rapid expansion and learning take place while the brain is flexible and able to adapt to changes. As children age, the brain loses some of that flexibility, making it harder to rewire with every passing opportunity.

Despite the importance of early learning opportunities, many Kansas families are unable to afford or access quality, nurturing care due to cost barriers. These barriers directly prevent some parents from entering the workforce and attaining a stable, healthy life.

This is why KAC advocates for quality learning and nurturing child care for all Kansas kids — regardless of their zip code, race, or family income. All children deserve the opportunity to be set up for success for the rest of their education and beyond.

Teachers build on the base of early learning and use it to construct active, engaged students who become meaningful participants in society. Our public schools provide students with essential opportunities to engage and grow in their passions.

Through interactions with peers and teachers, children and young adults learn to value diverse perspectives and experiences. As our schools work to engage with parents on education, educational outcomes will increase, and students will become less likely to engage in risky behaviors.

KAC supports a strong, equitable, and well-resourced public education system so that every Kansas child is prepared in school for success, no matter their family’s resources. We are committed to ensuring that families and children get the care, education, and resources they need to grow up healthy and successful.

More Must Be Done to Help Kids Reach Their Full Potential

Unlike publicly supported K-12 education, child care is often inaccessible and unaffordable for most Kansas families. Yet the early years are the most critical window for brain development. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has given ample evidence and visibility to the vital role child care plays in our economy and workforce.

Children’s critical early years are not the time to take shortcuts, but such high-quality programs can consume 20 percent or more of a family’s annual income. This isn’t sustainable.

In 2023, the Kansas Legislature discussed the issues facing child care access and affordability. However, the proposed solution to deregulate the child care field was a short-sighted attempt to increase child care slots and could have jeopardized the safety of children and providers. KAC advocated against the proposed changes to give the Kansas Department of Health and Environment time to complete their review of regulations and to allow the newly formed Early Childhood Transition Taskforce time to complete the work for which it was created.

Read: Federal COVID Relief Funding that Kansas Received for Child Care

Currently, Kansas provides very limited funding to support early learning and child care. The most significant investment in early learning has been through the Children’s Initiatives Fund, but that source of funding is not enough to meet the needs of Kansas families.

As pandemic relief funding for the early care and education field runs out, 2024 will be a critical session for lawmakers to invest in Kansas kids. A comprehensive child care bill that addresses high costs to families and low provider wages — without compromising safety and quality — will provide a hopeful beginning and allow a new state agency focused on early care and education to have the best opportunity for success.

Child care isn’t the only area where critical funding is needed. In the recent past, Kansas has undergone a series of lawsuits over the constitutionality of funding for public schools. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the formula used to determine schools’ funding was adequate and equitable. Thankfully, funding has increased as promised since that time, and for the first time in almost two decades, the Kansas Legislature has fully funded public schools (with the exception of special education funding shortfalls). This enables districts to fill teaching and support roles with qualified individuals, ensuring that children across the state receive the best quality education possible.

When families are engaged in their schools and in their child’s education, school attendance and improved academic scores increase. However, family involvement cannot be legislated; it comes through honest, open relationships and conversations in respectful and meaningful ways.

Policy Solutions

Lawmakers have abundant opportunities to pursue legislation and regulations for families to find, afford, and benefit from early education. Kansas must increase funding so more families can access high-quality, early learning opportunities for their young children. Child care is an investment in economic development, providing ample benefits to the state. Every $1 invested in early care and education can result in a return of up to $7.30.

This investment in early education will pay dividends in schools across the state, resulting in stronger student outcomes. A more robust early learning system that supports families will decrease the number of adverse childhood experiences that create harmful levels of toxic stress for children. We want kids to grow up healthy and thrive and have the opportunity to become successful and engaged adults.

To ensure that the public school system continues to serve the children of Kansas, the Kansas Legislature should:

  • Invest state dollars to bolster the Kansas child care system — for example, providing funding to increase provider wages or constructing new, safe environments for children.

  • Give children with disabilities the same opportunities as their peers through funding special education excess costs at 92%.

  • Avoid funneling tax dollars from public to private schools through vouchers, Educational Savings Accounts, and other methods.

  • Expand universal pre-kindergarten offerings and funding across the state.

  • Remove unnecessary barriers that prevent access to child care subsidies for families, such as eliminating the requirement to cooperate with child support enforcement or to work a minimum number of hours while in school.

  • Shift child care subsidy benefits from a market rate to a cost of quality model. Market rate is what parents are willing to pay but does not account for benefits or a living wage for providers. A cost-of-quality model considers all necessary expenses of care, creating a rich and healthy learning environment, while allowing providers to cover all living expenses and benefits. Cost of quality has proven successful in other states.