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file photo / Kansas News Service

Take a look at the Kansas budget and one item looms large, eating up more state spending than anything else.

Schools swallow about $4.5 billion. That spending rose after an infusion of cash by lawmakers earlier this year in response to a court ruling in a long-running fight over whether state government does enough to support public education.

The five candidates for Kansas governor faced off at a forum Tuesday night in Wichita.

It was a rare opportunity for independent Rick Kloos and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell to share a stage with the three major candidates — Republican Kris Kobach, Democrat Laura Kelly and independent Greg Orman.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Fresh off a victory that cemented his latest, controversial, pick for the nation’s high court, President Donald Trump came to Kansas Saturday night hoping to transfer his popularity in the state to two fellow Republicans.

Trump arrived just hours after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court — the most controversial appointment to the court in generations. He was in regular rally form, playing to an adoring crowd of some 10,000 thrilled supporters at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka.

About two decades ago the Wichita School Board, disturbed by an increasing number of guns, knives and other weapons being brought to schools, decided to take a hard-line approach:

Zero tolerance.

The board, prompted by the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, passed a policy mandating that any student caught with a gun — or a realistic-looking replica — on school property or at a school-sponsored event would be expelled for a full year.

No weapons — no questions, no excuses.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / KCUR/Kansas News Service

Angie Schreiber sees it time and again: dyslexic students failing to learn to read through traditional teaching techniques.

But she says she knows how they can flourish.

Schreiber’s private teaching service in Emporia uses an approach known as structured literacy. The method drills students on myriad rules of English sound and spelling that most of us never learned consciously.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

The incident Julie Burkhart remembers most clearly about the 1991 Summer of Mercy is the man who attached himself to the front gate of a Wichita abortion clinic using a U-lock.

Burkhart was a college student working at one of the three abortion clinics open in Wichita at the time. Today, she runs the one of two clinics left in the city.

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In 2015, a woman donned a clown mask and slipped into a Dollar General Store in Wichita just before closing time.

In the final moments of the robbery that eventually got her three years in prison, she did something that could complicate her life for many more years to come.

She flashed a stun gun, stuffed the $3,400 in her coveralls and fled.

File photo / Kansas News Service

Kris Kobach lost his 2004 bid for Congress to Democrat Dennis Moore by a hefty margin — nearly 12 percentage points in a district that went Republican a few years later.

Ask Moore’s media consultant what turned that race, and he’ll point to allegations that Kobach took money from people with thinly veiled white supremacist agendas.

“It stopped his progress dead in the water,” recalls Martin Hamburger, who created a 2004 ad that hammered Kobach on that front.

The booming calls of the lesser prairie chicken once rung out across western Kansas.

Accounts from the 1800s mention bands of hunters bagging dozens of birds each. Railways advertised special trains that brought sportsmen to shoot the birds in the Texas panhandle, complete with ice cars to preserve the meat on the ride home.

Courtesy of Joy Koesten

Most of the focus so far this election season in Kansas has been on the competitive primaries for gubernatorial and congressional nominations. But races for the state House could prove just as consequential.

Across the state, conservatives are challenging moderate Republicans and Democrats in a coordinated effort to reclaim legislative seats they lost in 2016.

Updated at 12:24 p.m. ET

One of the nation's most vocal promoters of unsubstantiated voter fraud claims hopes to eliminate his own party's sitting governor in Tuesday's primary.

file photo / Kansas News Service

Truth, it’s said, is the first casualty of war. That helps explain why combat metaphors so often get applied to political campaigns.

The battlefield of the Kansas governor’s race bears out the maxim. Even when candidates get their facts right — a surprisingly difficult task for the field — their words tend to twist a broader truth.

Last spring, just minutes after learning he had lost the special election for the 4th Congressional District seat to Ron Estes, James Thompson announced he was running again.

"I announced the night that I lost that I was running in 2018 because I saw a fire that was ignited here that we needed to continue pushing," Thompson says. "There was never a question in my mind."

The civil rights lawyer has spent the past year and a half in campaign mode, largely with the same team of supporters that was behind him last year. He says a major difference in this election is time.

FILE PHOTO / Kansas News Service

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach — rivals for the Republican gubernatorial nomination — are both diehard conservatives. On the campaign trail, they squabble over who’s more conservative on core issues like immigration, abortion, guns and taxes.

It’s clear, if elected, either would keep the state on a conservative path. The question for primary voters is whose approach would be best for tackling that agenda. 

The Kansas Democratic party hasn’t had a gubernatorial primary since 1998. The unfamiliar competition this year is forcing Democrats across the state to wrestle with their identity ahead of the Aug. 7 election.

Should their nominee be a candidate who aligns strictly with the progressive ideals of the party platform, or someone with broader appeal? Do they go with experience and name recognition, or youthful exuberance?

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

The deadline to register before the Aug. 7 primaries is Tuesday, July 17. Fear not, registering is easy.

So is finding your polling location, or voting in advance. Read on.

Got a criminal record? Seriously, read on.

First, check if you’re already registered and have a party affiliation

All you need is your birth date, county of residence and full name to check online.

Easy, right?

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.”

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.

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.

Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

Tat Hidano still gets the usual questions when he’s overseas recruiting international students to Wichita State University. The big one: Where is Wichita?

But lately Hidano has been hearing another question: Will I be safe in the United States?

“The questions about safety in the United States have been dominant,” Hidano said. He says his job has begun to feel less like recruiting and more like diplomacy.

Madeline Fox / Kansas News Service

Adrian Jones. Evan Brewer. Conner Hawes. Lucas Hernandez.

News coverage of those children’s deaths and others under the state’s watch galvanized public outrage over the past three years and drew more scrutiny to the troubled child welfare system in Kansas.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

The field of Republicans running in Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District is large, but some party leaders worry, not strong enough to keep the seat from falling into Democratic hands for the first time since 2006.

Seven Republicans are competing for the opportunity to face the lone Democrat in the race, Paul Davis, in the November general election. None has the name recognition of Davis, a former minority leader in the Kansas House who in 2014 nearly unseated former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Flickr

Physicians, researchers and hospitals broadly agree that cesarean sections have become too common. That’s powered efforts to limit them to ever fewer cases.

Still, it can be hard to gauge the track record of most Kansas hospitals. When a national group came asking for numbers that reveal how regularly C-sections are performed, many hospitals in the state didn’t reply.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Celia Llopis-Jepsen / KCUR/Kansas News Service

Five-year-old Ridley Fitzmorris sits at a picnic table in his backyard in Lawrence, one leg dangling and the other tucked beneath him. His eyes are focused on a row of Hot Wheels that his therapist asked him to count.

“One, two, three,” he says in a whisper, his finger hovering over each toy car until he reaches the last one. Turning to an iPad that he uses to communicate, he clicks an icon. “Eight,” the computerized voice announces.

“Good job!” cooes therapist Ashley Estrada, a specialist in treatment for children with autism. “You did it by yourself."

Flying east to west over Kansas, the land transforms from lush green to desert brown. Rectangular farm plots fill in with emerald circles, the work of center-pivot irrigation.

Outside Garden City, in the middle of one of those circles, Dwane Roth scoops up soil to reveal an inconspicuous PVC pipe. It’s a soil moisture probe that tells Roth exactly how much water his crops need. The device is one of many new technologies designed to help farmers make the most of every drop.

“All that you have to do is open up your app,” said Roth. “It’s going to tell you, you don’t need to irrigate or you’re going to need to apply an inch within  six days.”

file photo / Kansas News Service

In an election year with a state Supreme Court ruling hanging over their heads, Kansas lawmakers wrestled over school spending, taxes and guns.

They fought among themselves and often split ways from legislators they’d chosen as leaders.

In the end, they decided not to throw a tax cut to voters. It would have partly reversed tough political choices they made a year before to salvage state government’s troubled financial ledger.

Flickr

The Kansas House killed a tax cut bill on its way out the door Friday, ending the 2018 session with yet another signal that this isn’t the same conservative-dominated body of just two years ago.

This is the Legislature that voted last year to expand Medicaid and end then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature 2012 tax cuts with a two-year, $1.2 billion tax hike.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

The Kansas Legislature has narrowly approved a controversial measure allowing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in Kansas to be reimbursed by the state for placement services, even if they turn away prospective parents who don’t fit their religious beliefs.

The bill that includes the provisions constituting the “Adoption Protection Act” passed the House shortly before midnight Thursday with the bare minimum 63 votes in favor with 58 against. The Senate followed suit a couple hours later on a 24-15 vote. In a statement, Gov. Jeff Colyer said he would sign it.