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Kansas Children’s Cabinet balks at endorsing reading program

Amanda Adkins, chair of the Children's Cabinet and a senior director at Cerner, Corp.-Photo by Dave Ranney

Amanda Adkins, chair of the Children’s Cabinet and a senior director at Cerner, Corp.-Photo by Dave Ranney

 

Members of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet have voted not to include funding for a controversial reading program in its list of spending recommendations for next year.

“This doesn’t pass the sniff test,” said board member Jonathan Freiden, referring to a proposal to spend another $6 million on Lexia Reading Core5, a software program that helps school-age youngsters learn to read.

Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to spend $6 million on the software in fiscal 2014 and another $6 million in fiscal 2015, which begins July 1, 2014.

The first year’s funding was taken from the state’s Children’s Initiative Fund, a repository for the state’s tobacco master settlement revenues.

The decision was made without input from the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, which is charged with figuring out how best to spend the money on early childhood development initiatives throughout the state. The tobacco funding totals about $56 million a year.

The $12 million allocation was the subject of a last-minute budget proviso introduced by Rep. Marc Rhoades, a Newton Republican and chair of the House Appropriations Committee. It passed the House and Senate without a hearing. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill into law.

The proviso stipulated that the money would be used to give elementary schools access to the Lexia software, which in Kansas is licensed through Educational Design Solutions, a small franchise-type firm owned by Don Fast who lives outside Newton.

Freiden said the children’s cabinet should not endorse the second year of the two-year allocation, arguing that it violated the group’s long-standing policies for thoroughly vetting programs before they’re funded.

“This wasn’t even subjected to the competitive-bid process,” he said.

Board member Terrie Huntington, a former state senator, said that since the current year’s allocation already is being spent, the cabinet should recommend that the second year funding come from the Kansas Department of Education.

“I’m sure it’s a great program,” she said, “but I’m concerned that it didn’t go through the bid process and that the money is coming out of a fund that’s supposed to be for early childhood development; in other words, kids who aren’t in school yet. I’d rather see the money come out of the KDoE budget.”

Cabinet members adopted Huntington’s recommendation on 5-3 vote.

Member Shari Weber, a former state representative, voted against the measure.

“I think it’s an innovative program than can make a difference,” she said. “I want to see what it can do.”

Amanda Fouts, a spokesperson for Educational Design Solutions, said that 175 elementary schools were using Lexia prior to this year’s legislative session. Since August, she said, the company has signed up an additional 35 schools.

“The goal is to get 200 (new) schools,” she said.

Cabinet members also voted to recommend dropping Children’s Initiative Fund support for Judge Riddell Boys Ranch, a residential facility near Lake Afton that is run by the Sedgwick County Department of Corrections.

The ranch is in this year’s Children’s Initiative Fund budget for $750,000.

“That money should come from the (Kansas) Department of Corrections budget,” Huntington said.

Her motion passed unanimously.

Also during the meeting:

Children’s cabinet chair Amanda Adkins said she hoped to announce the hiring of a new executive director in early December.

“You will be very pleased,” she said. “You’ll be really happy.”

Cabinet executive director Jim Redmond announced his resignation in early September. His last day will be Dec. 31.

The children’s cabinet is an advisory panel that provides its spending recommendations to the Governor’s Office.

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. All news service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution. --By Dave Ranney, KHI News Service

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