Governor Kelly Calls for “Historic” Child Care Funding
From Paula Neth, TFC President & CEO
With legislative sessions in both states underway, The Family Conservancy team was eager to tune into Governor Kelly’s State of the State address last week. Her 2025 fiscal year budget proposal gave a promising outlook for Kansas children and families. She called for Medicaid expansion, including access to mental health services; and fully funding special education; and Gov. Kelly also proposed investing millions in our child care and early learning system.
During her reelection campaign, Kelly promised to be the “child care governor,” and on January 11, she demonstrated a commitment to that promise. In her 2025 state budget recommendations, she proposed the most significant single-year investment in the state’s early childhood system: $56 million to expand child care slots and support the child care workforce.
Kelly explained how this investment will benefit all Kansans in her remarks. “A large part of that investment will go toward solving our State’s childcare shortage. Over half of Kansas families in search of child care cannot find an open slot – forcing many parents to quit their jobs. And the shortages are worse in our rural areas. That’s bad for our children, stressful for our parents, and, at a time when every business is desperate for workers, it slows down our economy,” said Kelly.
I couldn’t agree more – our child care sector is in crisis. In Wyandotte and Johnson counties, there is currently only capacity to care for 20,550 children (Child Care Aware of Kansas, Jan. 2024), which is roughly 49 percent of the demand. The reason is quite simple, the sector is significantly underfunded and the model is flawed. Most parents simply can’t afford to pay what it costs to provide early care and education and providers can’t afford to stay in the field.
We need policies that address the complex barriers for both child care workers and families. It’s time to view child care like the public good that it is. The evidence is clear – all parties benefit from having a safe, affordable place for kids to go. Parents’ minds are at ease and pocketbooks can benefit, and employers reap the benefits of an engaged workforce and expanded talent pool of working parents. And of course, our children are safe, nurtured, and ready to succeed when they get to kindergarten, and even eventually, become part of the workforce.
In the mental health arena, Kelly outlined her plan for Medicaid Expansion, which would increase access to mental health services, and the budget recommends $1.5 million for Family Treatment Court to provide support for Kansas youth or parents with substance use or co-occurring mental or behavioral health issues. The budget also continues Governor Kelly’s efforts to expand access to mental health in schools by adding $3 million to the Mental Health Intervention Pilot Program, bringing the total funding to the program up to just more than $17 million, potentially expanding the program to over 100 school districts.
Specifically, as it relates to The Family Conservancy’s work to make the most of the critical first five years of life, I was grateful to hear child care, access to mental health services, and Medicaid expansion are among her priorities. We know solving these issues is a major undertaking that will take significant investments. We can be fiscally responsible, but we can’t be foolish or take half-measures. It’s time to make the bold and necessary investments in our early education and mental health infrastructure. We have been reactionary for far too long, and we know addressing the root causes of the deficits in these two issues is the only route for lasting change.
It is now up to the Kansas Legislature to consider and act on these common-sense recommendations the Governor proposed to benefit all Kansans. We plead with Kansas legislators to make these investments today so our children, families, and communities can thrive.
We support these goals and plan to work with anyone who shares them. If you are on board, one way you can get involved is by signing up for our advocacy alerts. These alerts will keep you informed of critical opportunities to use your voice to shape the future of Kansas.*
*If you are a Missouri resident, you can also sign up for alerts in your state, and follow the developments and investments in early childhood. Governor Mike Parson will deliver the 2024 State of the State Address detailing his Fiscal Year 2025 budget proposal on Wednesday, January 24, 2024, at 3 p.m.