Archive for Saturday, September 18, 2004

Legislature, child advocates in financial dispute again

September 18, 2004

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— The head of the Kansas Children's Cabinet said Friday the state child advocacy panel must do a better job of evaluating programs it funds in order to satisfy lawmakers who hold the purse strings.

"We have to demonstrate there is a plan in place for evaluation," chairwoman Melissa Ness said.

But other cabinet members said it was the Legislature that was causing problems by raiding the cabinet's funding, then making the cabinet jump through bureaucratic hoops.

"We're being told to evaluate programs we didn't even think should be funded with our funds," said Marvin Barkis, a former Kansas House speaker.

The comments reflect a long-running dispute over the process of allocating funds Kansas receives as part of the 1998 legal settlement between states and major tobacco companies. The state receives approximately $50 million per year from this settlement.

Since its inception in 1999, the Children's Cabinet has said most of the tobacco settlement funds should go toward early-childhood learning programs such as Smart Start, which helps prepare children for kindergarten.

But lawmakers, looking for revenue for programs in lean budget years, have increasingly plugged the funds into other areas. In the current fiscal year, the children's initiative funds are spread over a wide array of 23 programs, including smoking prevention, family preservation and juvenile justice.

"We might be doing better for Kansas kids if we spent everything on Smart Start," Barkis said.

Committee members voiced support for Smart Start, noting that numerous studies had shown that spending on early education helped save money in the long run by reducing the need for remedial and special education.

Still, they said, the immediate cost-effectiveness of a program that serves 3- and 4-year-olds is difficult to evaluate in a way that could be presented to the Legislature.

Ness said it would take time to educate officials about the effectiveness of certain programs, but that the cabinet needed to provide assurances that evaluations were being done.

"The cabinet must put a plan out there. If we don't, all these programs will be gone," Ness said.

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