Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
“A better today for our families and a better tomorrow for our children.”
That is how Governor Andy Beshear opened his budget address. The critical question tonight is clear – do the finite fiscal details match that lofty vision?
An immediate reaction to any budget address – including this one – should be tempered with the need for an in-depth analysis. That does not preclude some initial thinking, and as I consider what Kentuckians heard from the Governor tonight, key takeaways include the following.
- No one can argue that public education is a seminal determinant to child well-being. Therefore, increasing the per-pupil (SEEK) funding and providing initial funding to school safety are positives to be sure. It should be noted that school leaders need those SEEK dollars to be delivered in flexible ways and not be locked into categorical allocations, like textbooks.
- Additionally, while we recognize that realizing the potential of the School Safety and Resiliency Act is a long-term proposition, we are surprised and disappointed in the rather tepid commitment in investments to make it a reality. I would assert that it must be the highest of any public-school budget line item. Minimally, we expect the Beshear Administration to utilize previously untapped Medicaid dollars to provide needed behavioral health services in our schools.
- The Governor is strategic and insightful in his approach to building a robust early childhood system through targeted investments in preschool. We appreciate this as a symbolic commitment and substantive seed capital to this arena.
- The Governor’s investment in hiring frontline workers within the Department for Community Based Services is smart and on point. We cannot talk about protecting children without supporting the workforce charged with protecting them. Additionally, his support for Child Advocacy Centers can be a lever to protecting children who have experienced the tragedy of abuse.
- The Governor’s categorical allocation of resources to close the gap in child health coverage is one of the real wins for children. A relatively minimal investment will pay inordinately large dividends in ensuring every Kentucky kid can access the care they need to be healthy.
- As a vaping epidemic impacts so many of our Kentucky teens, the Governor’s proposed tax on e-cigarettes, and proposed increase of the cigarette tax, can prevent use among our youngest, reduce future healthcare costs, and provide revenue for the state budget.
No one can grade this budget for kids without further investigation. We have to discover whether Kentucky’s kinship families will receive imperative supports like respite care and adequate placement support benefits. We have to discover how it expends the broader funding issues around the child welfare system: will we begin to invest in frontend prevention efforts or continue to focus on the most expensive and least effective measures? Juvenile justice system diversion, economic measures like a refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit, and youth-based tobacco cessation programs are also non-negotiables that we will be looking for in a more detailed exploration of Governor Beshear’s proposed budget.
Anyone who declares this budget proposal a rousting win for kids, or whose immediate reaction this evening is to relegate this speech as more rhetoric than reality, is being political and not analytical. So, were there any number of encouraging signals in this evening’s address? Absolutely. Do we need to dig deeper to answer any number of questions around this budget’s impact on children? Absolutely.
I continue to hope and believe that the Governor, the Kentucky Senate, and the Kentucky House will come together to ensure that this biennial budget is not just an “Education First” budget but rather a “Kids First” budget.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.