State spending on children decreasing while child poverty increasing, report shows

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The amount of money Colorado spends on children is shrinking at a time when the number of children -- and the number of children in poverty -- is rising, according to a report released today by the Colorado Children's Campaign. President Chris Watney says it's disheartening to watch the safety net for the state's vulnerable children disintegrate.

"Our budget is a values document," she says. "It really talks about, what do Coloradans care about? But when you take a close look at the budget, it doesn't prioritize the things we value, like supporting vulnerable families and kids."

The report analyzes the state budget over the past five years. Findings include that Colorado's investment in children's programs peaked in the 2009-2010 fiscal year, thanks to an influx of federal stimulus dollars. Since then, spending on children has decreased, declining by 6.4 percent in 2010-2011 and 4.7 percent in the current fiscal year of 2011-2012 (when taking inflation and the growth in the child population into account, the report notes).

Meanwhile, Colorado's child poverty rates are rising. According to the 2011 KIDS COUNT in Colorado! report, which is also produced by the Colorado Children's Campaign, the number of children living in poverty in Colorado has more than doubled since 2000, though the overall percentage of kids in poverty remains below the national average.

Budget-wise, hard-hit programs include the Child Care Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance for day care to low-income families; the Women's, Infants and Children's Supplemental Food Grant (WIC); Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which provides cash assistance to needy families; and education spending, which the report says declined an average of 1.9 percent over the past five years.

"Over the past five years, there have been those cuts you try to do with a scalpel," Watney says of education funding. "You try to take off things that will harm the fewest people. But there's a point where it becomes so significant that you can't use a scalpel anymore and that's what has happened in education."

A recent announcement from Governor John Hickenlooper that a revised revenue forecast could potentially restore $89 million to education funding is good news, Watney says. "It makes me feel good that (education) is the first place the governor looked to restore," she says. But it won't solve the state's long-term budget woes, she adds.

"We have reached a place where our revenues are not able to support our most basic services," Watney says. "We need to take a look at the bigger picture, at the structural imbalances in Colorado's budget. It's important for people in Colorado to understand that this formula is no longer working. And we have to have significant change to fund the kinds of programs and services that we value."

More from our Politics archives: "The luckiest political campaign office in Colorado is becoming a fitness center."

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