Gov. Sam Brownback has long stated that reducing the number of Kansas children living below the poverty line is one of his top priorities. In fact, it was one of his campaign promises in 2010. So it’s surprising that his colleagues in the Legislature would consider abolishing one of the programs we’re already using to change the trajectory for poor children.
Last week, the governor’s child poverty task force met for the second time to discuss options and tactics for reducing childhood poverty. Ironically, just a few days later, a House committee heard a bill to eliminate the KIDS higher-education savings match program.
The KIDS program provides a dollar-for-dollar match – up to $600 a year – to low-income families contributing to Learning Quest higher-education savings accounts. Nearly 1,000 Kansas families utilize the KIDS program.
Kansas Action for Children helped to conceptualize KIDS as a pilot program in 2006. Kansas lawmakers adopted the program permanently in 2009. To qualify for the matched contributions from the state, a family’s income must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For these families, KIDS is a lifeline and sometimes the only route to higher education.
Most important, KIDS provides the incentive to save. Researchers at the University of Kansas found that when money is set aside for college, families save more and view attending college as a more realistic possibility. According to one KU researcher, about 80 percent of the parents who saved early said they thought their children would finish college and that they viewed higher education as valuable.
The KIDS program is beneficial to more than just the participating families. We all stand to gain when these children – born and raised in Kansas – graduate from universities, junior colleges and technical schools, and go on to become a highly skilled workforce, ensuring a prosperous future for our state.
The deck is stacked against the poorest children from the moment they’re born. The KIDS program is just one of the ways we can give them a leg up. While the governor wrestles with how to fulfill his campaign promise, he should discourage his colleagues from supporting House Bill 2371 or eliminating the KIDS program. It’s a step in the wrong direction.