A popular program for Kansas children to get free admission to some of the state’s coolest attractions is coming back this summer.
Sunflower Summer — a Kansas State Department of Education initiative that gave over 70,000 Kansans free access to museums, parks and other attractions around the state in 2022 — is funded for the next few summers, education commissioner Randy Watson announced Tuesday.
“We’re going to be doing it again, and we’re excited about it,” Watson told the Kansas State Department of Education.
Here’s what you need to know.
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How does Sunflower Summer work?
The state education department had used federal COVID-19 relief funding to start Sunflower Summer in 2021, in an effort to make sure all Kansas students had access to summer enrichment opportunities.
This year, Gov. Laura Kelly decided to reallocate unused federal relief funds for Kansas’ private schools to the state education department so that it could continue to offer Sunflower Summer.
To get free admission to Kansas attractions, parents or other adults download the Sunflower Summer app on their phone and register themselves and their children. The app then provides a single-use, free ticket for the child, as well as free tickets for up to two accompanying adults, to attend attractions around the state.
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In 2021, about 70 different attractions — including the Kansas Cosmosphere, Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and various zoos — participated in the state program.
Denise Kuehler, a KSDE spokesperson, said the department is not yet ready to share more information other than to say Sunflower Summer is coming, but Watson in September told the Kansas State Board of Education that feedback from venues in 2021 was remarkable.
Many locations called it the best program they had ever participated in, Watson said, and several even offered other freebies or discounted admission for future admission to Sunflower Summer families.
Who can use Sunflower Summer?
The program is open to any child in Kansas, regardless of their school, as long as they are between ages 4 and 18 and haven’t graduated from high school.
“Public school, private school, home school — it doesn’t matter,” Watson said. “They just have to be of school age.”
Up to adults accompanying a child, including parents, grandparents, babysitters, daycare teachers and other guardians, may also receive free admission to attractions through the program, Watson said.
“Anyone who is concerned about that student can take those students to the Topeka Zoo, or to the Cosmosphere or (Kansas Department of) Wildlife and Parks at Kanopolis or Glen Elder,” Watson said.
When does Sunflower Summer start?
Last year, the Sunflower Summer program didn’t get started until July 1, so it only ran for a little over a month before the start of school in mid-August.
Still, about 43,000 Kansas children and 28,000 adults were able to use the program to get free admission to attractions around the state.
Participants came from each of Kansas’ 104 counties, Watson reported in September 2021, in visiting over 70 attractions offered that summer, and he said he anticipated more families and venues would have participated if they had known more about the program.
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Kelly’s decision on allocating the federal relief also funds the program for summers 2023 and 2024. For 2022, Sunflower Summer is slated to start right after Memorial Day, Watson said, and will run through early August.
“Or until the money runs out, which would be a good thing to have, right?” Watson said.
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.