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  • Brownback defends cuts to Early Head Start

  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback at a recent press conference said he will not back away from his plan to eliminate funding for the state’s Early Head Start program. It’s a move that could negatively affect education and business in the Pittsburg area.

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  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback at a recent press conference said he will not back away from his plan to eliminate funding for the state’s Early Head Start program. It’s a move that could negatively affect education and business in the Pittsburg area.
    The program, which has an annual budget of $11.3 million, serves about 1,250 children in about half the state’s 105 counties. It is administered locally by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program. EHS provides services for infants and toddlers up to age 3, and low-income pregnant women are also eligible for services such as training in parenting skills. Most of the parents whose children are enrolled in EHS either work or are in school, and most live at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $1,200 per month for a single mother with one child. SEK-CAP employs 59 EHS workers and serves 252 EHS children.
    EHS is funded through state and federal money, said SEK-CAP Executive Director Steve Lohr. But losing the state money — about $1.8 million for EHS locally — would have the most impact on southeast Kansas. Of the families served by EHS during the most recent quarter, 84 percent were employed full- or part-time, 15 percent were attending school, and 12 percent were working and attending school. The state funds pay for 202 EHS children in the four-county area, and 43 of the 59 EHS jobs could be directly affected by the cuts.
    It also could hurt local childcare providers, who serve 50 of those children. SEK-CAP also administrates 50 EHS children in six additional counties, which are paid for through federal funding. Lohr said that could go away, too.
    Lohr said losing the money is still “not a foregone conclusion,” and that he and other advocates are working with “all parents, partners and staff” to try to convince legislators to reinstate the funding.
    “It’s disappointing we weren’t able to convince the governor about the benefits EHS,” Lohr said. “Now we have to convince the legislators.”
    According to a previously published report from the Kansas Health Institute, Brownback said that though he was “fully open” to reconsidering his decision, he doubted “the Legislature and others” would find the $11.3 million needed to restore the administration’s proposed cuts to the program.
    “I’m willing to work with them,” Brownback said, adding that the cuts were necessary to help fill an estimated $550 million hole in the fiscal 2012 state budget. “But the funding hole is enormous and it continues to grow.”
    Early Head Start was created by the federal government in 1995. Kansas, in 1998, became the first state in the nation to fund the program based on the federal model. Among the services it provides are health care, home visits, and child care for new mothers who are working or seeking work.
    At the same time, Brownback is urging legislators to approve $6 million to start a new program called “Reading Roadmap.” The program would aim specifically at improving fourth-grade reading scores, which have shown that about 28 percent of Kansas fourth-graders have trouble reading. The scores have been flat for several years.
    Page 2 of 2 - Brownback said he wants to make sure that Reading Roadmap produces measurable results, something he implied Early Head Start and other programs lacked.
    “It’s got to be a model that produces reading results,” Brownback said. “The numbers have to be there and they haven’t been in some of these programs.”
    Supporters of Early Head Start said studies have repeatedly shown that children leave the program better prepared for kindergarten than their counterparts who have not been enrolled.
    Barry Downing, founder of TOP Early Learning Centers in Wichita, said he would join advocates in urging lawmakers to reinstate Early Head Start funding. The learning centers, he said, have long “partnered” with the local Early Head Start program.
    “We have outcomes and longitudinal studies that show that our kids, generally, come to us at about the 30th percentile,” he said. “When they leave for kindergarten, they’re at the 80th percentile.”
    Linda Broyles, SEK-CAP Head Start director, said literacy programs are woven throughout the EHS programs, and that research exists to back it up.
    “We’ve learned with lots of research and with a lot of evidence-based practice, that the earlier you intervene the more impact you can have,” Broyles said. “Most research talks about the fact that we are making a difference.”
    The main problem, she said, is that the governor may not fully understand the program’s worth.
    “We’re working with some of the most vulnerable people in the state,” Broyles said. “We have to do a better job of getting him to understand exactly what we do.”

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