The Kansas Children's Cabinet
8:00 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Kansas: When the tobacco money’s gone, what will fund children’s programs?

Credit watchdog.org

Tobacco settlement funds were earmarked for children’s programs in Kansas.  The money was to be vetted by the 15-member Kansas Children’s Cabinet.  The intent was to channel the funds toward “innovative” new programs that would supplement, rather than supplant, those already paid for by the state general fund according to The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Lawmakers have increasingly diverted money from the fund to cover shortfalls in existing youth programs.  Some of the cabinet members are upset that their recommendations are not being carried out.

“I would hope that the recommendations of that cabinet would be taken seriously, but I would question whether that’s happening,” said Shannon Cotsoradis, a member of the cabinet and the executive director of Kansas Action for Children.

Two deviations are troubling.  The first is the $6 Kansas Reads to Succeed.  The appropriation has also proved controversial because the money was earmarked for a specific reading program, Lexia, that is distributed in Kansas solely by a constituent of Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, the House Appropriations Committee Chairman.

“The Kansas Children’s Cabinet, they did not recommend funding for the Lexia reading program did they?” Rep. Nancy Lusk, D-Overland Park, said during a committee hearing Monday. “It didn’t go through the usual vetting process for the Legislature either. It just kind of popped up at the end.”

The second is The Kansas Endowment for Youth.  The endowment was started with banking settlement revenue excess.  The plan was to fund the cabinet’s programs on interest alone to allow the continuation of programming after the tobacco settlement funds are gone, but legislators have taken so much from that source that it is basically gone. 

Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, told the House Social Services Budget Committee he chairs the budget of the Kansas Department for Children and families is out of control because of the programs overseen by the cabinet.

Cotsoradis said the cabinet's authority is increasingly waning and she would like Gov. Sam Brownback to support and adhere to the cabinet's recommendations.

"Historically I think governors have taken that fairly seriously," Cotsoradis said. "Since this administration took over you don’t see that reflected in the budget.”