Kansas News Service | KCUR

Kansas News Service

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots regarding the policies, issues and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other funders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ways to Connect

The Democrats running to be Kansas’ next governor brushed off the idea of a tax increase to cover the state’s needs during a Democratic forum in Wichita on Wednesday night sponsored by KMUW and KWCH.

State Sen. Laura Kelly said it’s too soon after repealing the Sam Brownback-era tax cuts to talk about a tax increase.

“We need to let the dust settle,” Kelly said. "We have no idea the full impact of that or the full impact of the federal tax cuts that have occurred."

Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer was clear that he doesn't support a tax increase.

Gov. Jeff Colyer was on the defense during a Republican forum sponsored by KMUW and KWCH on Tuesday night.

He was targeted by his Republican gubernatorial opponents over Kansas’ budget issues during his time with the Brownback administration.

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett was one of several candidates who attacked Colyer over the Brownback era tax cuts.

“The Brownback Colyer tax experiment brought this state to its knees,” Barnett said.

Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

Bethany College track and cross country coach Aaron Yoder spends a lot of time on the treadmill in the Lindsborg, Kansas, school’s cardio room. It doesn’t seem unusual unless you see what he’s doing — running backward.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Update: Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Kris Kobach called for the controversial flag artwork be removed from public display at the Spencer Museum of Art altogether. Gov. Jeff Colyer was the first to raise the issue in opening remarks during a gubernatorial debate Thursday evening, saying the artwork should be "sent back to sender" and that taxpayer-funded institutions, such as KU, should not be used as a venue to "desecrate our flag." 

Responding to criticism from elected officials and political candidates, University of Kansas officials have taken down an altered American flag displayed on campus as part of a nationwide art project.

KU Chancellor Douglas Girod issued the order late Wednesday after Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer learned of the flag exhibit and demanded its removal.

“The disrespectful display of a desecrated American flag on the KU campus is absolutely unacceptable,” Colyer said in a news release earlier in the day. “I demand that it be taken down immediately.”

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

Vice President Mike Pence came to Kansas City Wednesday, where he touted Republicans running for office on both sides of the state line and tried to ease concerns about the Trump administration’s expanding trade war.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Are you registered to vote? CLICK HERE to check online. The deadline is July 17 if you want to vote in the Aug. 7 primaries.

With less than a month until the 2018 primaries, the question of whether Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is in compliance with a federal court order to fix its voter registration practices is still up for debate.

Kansas can no longer ask would-be voters to dig up documents like passports or birth certificates after a court ruled that unconstitutional and in violation of federal election law last month.

A new awareness campaign in Kansas is aimed at cutting the demand for prostitution as a way to fight human trafficking.

The campaign involves state agencies and local advocacy groups teaming up to push the Demand an End initiative. It involves education and announcements warning people that buyers of sex face charges.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said Tuesday that the campaign wants to create a culture where buying sex is not acceptable. He said it’s not a victimless crime.

“The money goes somewhere,” he said. “It fuels a marketplace.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

There’s a common thread among the campaigns of several men aspiring to replace Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — promises of administrative competence.

So says Emporia State political scientist Michael Smith. It jumped out at him as he perused some of their websites.

“To me,” he said, it “has sort of a subtext, that that has not been Kobach’s focus.”

Employees from the Cosmosphere space museum in Hutchinson are helping to recreate one of the biggest moments in our nation’s space history: the mission control room used during the first moon landing.

Kansas water use is declining, according to a new report from the U.S. Geological survey.

In 2015, Kansas used on average more than 4 billion gallons of water each day. That’s down nearly 25 percent from 1990. Of that, 2.6 billion gallons per day are used for irrigation — a decrease of 36 percent from 1990.

“What we’re doing is great, it’s just not enough of it,” said Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter.

file photo / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer says he will continue to push for a Medicaid work requirement despite a recent court order blocking a similar policy in Kentucky.

Last week, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, an Obama appointee in the District of Columbia, questioned whether the Trump administration had adequately considered the consequences of Kentucky’s work requirement before reversing longstanding federal policy to approve it.

file photo / Flickr-CC

Kansas tax collections in June beat estimates — projections that already factored in tax hikes — by $144 million. That capped off a fiscal year where the state topped projections every month, which is a sharp departure from some recent years.

Lawmakers use the projections when they craft the budget, so the boost in revenue means the state’s bank account ends the fiscal year with $318 million more than state officials anticipated.

P.J. Sneed is a nurse at a hospital in Wichita, but only until the end of the June. That’s when he’ll quit to become a hemp farmer.

“I’ve not grown a stitch of hemp,” he said. “But I feel like I know how I could do it and have a plan to do it.”

He’ll need more than just enthusiasm to succeed as he trades the stresses of checking patients’ vital signs and administering medicine for the stresses of growing a new crop without experience or the benefits of crop insurance.

First Liberty Institute

Mary Anne Sause was listening to Michael Savage, the conservative radio show host, when Louisburg, Kansas, police showed up at her apartment door. They’d fielded a complaint that her radio was playing too loud.

The retired nurse didn’t open the door at first. She said she was wary after she’d been raped years earlier. She called a friend, who came over just before the police returned and banged on the door. She opened it but left the screen door locked.

“They wouldn’t tell me what they were there for,” she said. “I was told if I didn’t let them in I would get a ticket.”

Union County Public Schools

The new Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district superintendent says he wants to increase graduation rates and make sure every student is reading at grade level by second grade.

But Charles Foust will have to make those gains with a budget that the Kansas Supreme Court found doesn’t live up to the “adequate” standard set in the state constitution.

Amtrak may end passenger rail service through Dodge City, Garden City and destinations to the west.

The agency told a congressional delegation last week that it might shut down parts of the Southwest Chief route that runs across Kansas on its way between Chicago and Los Angeles. That news followed ongoing disputes about track maintenance and upgrades.

Federal prosecutors have revived an effort to target violent crime in Kansas, this time with a focus on Wichita and Garden City, U.S. Attorney for Kansas Stephen McAllister announced Thursday.

The Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative prioritizes federal prosecutions of repeat violent offenders and convicted criminals who carry firearms.

This story has been updated.

More than 2,000 residents in Eureka, Kansas, continued to be without power Wednesday night, a day after an EF-3 tornado hit, damaging more than 25 homes and businesses and injuring eight people.

The tornado struck the town, located about 60 miles east of Wichita, at about 7 p.m. Tuesday. Meteorologists at the National Weather Service estimate winds reached between 136 and 165 mph.

Rebekah Hange / KCUR 89.3

Last September, the ground shifted under the small town of Tonganoxie, Kansas, about 35 miles due west of Kansas City.

When word got out that Tyson Foods, Inc. was ready to announce it would soon break ground just outside town on a $320 million poultry complex — a processing plant, hatchery and feed mill — opponents organized immediately.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated with comments from the children's attorney.)

Immigrant children taken to Kansas after being separated from their families are on their way to being reunited with loved ones.

A federal judge in San Diego on Tuesday night ordered that kids separated from their families under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy must be reunited with those adults within 30 days. That’s already happened for more than half of the separated kids staying at a shelter in Topeka.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

A deal, hatched in secret, to build a massive chicken processing plant on the outskirts of Tonganoxie, Kansas, caused a huge uproar last September. The Tyson project was promptly canceled. Despite that, all the incumbent city council members on the ballot were voted out of office in November.

The political consequences could continue with upcoming elections for the Kansas House.

Brandi Thorpe

Brandi Thorpe says her 10-year-old son D’Juan Franklin is a loving, intelligent child, who loves playing football and baseball. He's also autistic.

When Thorpe transferred him to the New Beginnings School in the Lansing, Kansas, district — a school dedicated to special education — she was hopeful that her son would get the support he needed. And, he did, up until the morning of January 17, 2017.

On Monday, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively said the state’s public schools could open in the fall. Yet the same decision left local district officials on Tuesday and beyond with continued, long-term uncertainty.

The high court’s decision could lead to continued fighting over school funding and the topic will likely serve as political fodder in state elections.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Registering to vote in the upcoming Kansas primaries? A federal court ruling issued last week means you won’t need your passport, birth certificate or other citizenship papers to do that.

That ruling took immediate effect.

But Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach plans to appeal. So what happens next? Here’s a summary based on interviews with legal experts.

The status check

Tuition at public universities in Kansas is going up. School officials blame the increase on rising costs and years of dwindling state funding alongside flat enrollment.

The hikes all fall below the 3.1 percent average increase for state universities across the nation last year. Still, most Kansas public universities received increases above the nation’s inflation rate of about 2 percent.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

(This story has been updated.)

Kansas continues to underfund its schools, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Monday — a decision that could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars more over the next four years.

But because the Legislature agreed to significant hikes in funding this spring, the justices gave it another year to add to the amount it sends to local school districts.

The high court could have forced lawmakers back to Topeka in coming weeks to fix the problem or face school closures, something the state’s lawyers begged it not to do.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

A team of lawyers has volunteered to make sure immigrant children in Topeka separated from their parents have the legal help they need to reunite with their families.

Former U.S. attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said Monday he’s assembled team of at least 10 lawyers, paralegals and legal secretaries volunteering help to immigrant children staying at The Villages, a shelter in Topeka that’s been taking in children separated from their parents when they crossed into the United States.

file photo / KHI News Service

A devastating legal blow last week to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voter fraud platform will, in all likelihood, land in the lap of one of six men vying for his job.

That person could decide whether to press or kill Kobach’s appeal of a federal ruling that blocks the office from making would-be voters dig up birth certificates or other documents that show U.S. citizenship.

The Villages, Inc. on Facebook

A Topeka shelter has been receiving children who were separated from their parents at the border for about two weeks, its executive director confirmed Friday.

The Topeka campus of The Villages, Inc. started accepting children who had entered the country without a parent or other relative last year. It’s been scaling up its capacity for migrant children since then, and can now house up to 50 of those kids.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Kansas received a passing grade for its highways earlier this week when the state’s chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers released its latest “infrastructure report card.” However, the engineers also warned that sweeping cuts to Kansas Department of Transportation funding are still causing roadways to suffer.

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