Saturday, February 28, 2015

House committee reconsiders Parents as Teachers funding recommendation

KHI News Service

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- The House Social Services Budget Committee changed its mind Wednesday, voting to shelve an earlier recommendation that could have led to the Parents as Teachers program being cut from the state budget.

“We’re going to have another hearing,” said Rep. Will Carpenter, a Republican from El Dorado and chairman of the committee. Earlier in the week, the committee voted to encourage the House Appropriations Committee to consider dropping Parents as Teachers from the list of programs supported by the Children’s Initiatives Fund, the state’s repository for tobacco settlement monies.

“That really wasn’t about grabbing money,” Carpenter said. “It had more to do with getting their attention, which I think it did.”

Carpenter said that after listening to recent presentations by Janice Smith, executive director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, and Jackie Counts, director of the Center for Public Partnerships and Research at the University of Kansas, he and others on the committee were left with the impression that Parents as Teachers’ effectiveness was questionable and that the program appeared to resist gathering and sharing data needed to measure its success.

“I just didn’t think the credible data was there to prove the efficacy of the whole program,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, a Republican from Emporia and vice chairwoman of the Social Services Budget Committee, after the initial vote.

But after that vote, committee members were flooded with emails and telephone calls from child advocates, assuring them that Parents as Teachers is effective, relies on evidence-based practices and includes a thorough evaluation process.

Carpenter said he welcomed hearing from advocates for the program, which offers support to parents in the early years of their children’s lives.

“I don’t think anyone on the committee has anything against Parents as Teachers. I don’t, certainly,” he said. “But that’s really not what this was about. This was about accountability and our being able to justify how the ‘people’s money’ is being spent. It looks like (Parents as Teachers) can do that, so I think they’ll come out of this all right.”

Nancy Keel, executive director of the Kansas Parents as Teachers Association, and Dale Dennis, deputy commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education, are scheduled to appear March 5 before the committee.

“I’m going to review the facts, and I think the facts are going to speak for themselves,” Dennis said.

“It’ll be positive. Parents as Teachers has been around a long time. It’s a good program.” Keel said: “We’ll be letting them know that Parents as Teachers is a viable program.”

There are approximately 70 Parents as Teachers programs in Kansas administered by their local school districts. The programs employ more than 200 home-visitation workers who met with more than 10,000 families last year, Keel said.

The Parents as Teachers total operating budget is $12.3 million a year, made up of $7.2 million from the Children’s Initiatives Fund and $5.1 million from school districts, grants, foundations and local charities.

“Our high-water mark, funding-wise, was back in 2008 when we were at $7.5 million,” Keel said, referring to the program’s Children’s Initiatives Fund allocation. “We were lowered to $7.2 million when the recession hit, and we’ve never gotten to go back to our original amount. We’ve been at $7.2 million ever since.”

Keel attributed the committee’s accountability concerns to a misunderstanding about the forms used to measure parents’ satisfaction with the program.

“There’s a line on page 15 of one of the reports that says the parent satisfaction survey is not valid and is not reliable,” she said.

The committee, Keel said, assumed that meant the survey results were skewed when it actually meant they likely were not a 100 percent accurate reflection of what parents truly think about the program. “There isn’t a survey form that’s considered valid and reliable,” she said.

Still, the report gave the survey 95 out of a possible 100 points.

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