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Noonletter, Oct. 2, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Hope and change the seat to blue

Former President Barack Obama continues to roll out scores of endorsements in this year’s mid-term congressional elections, hoping to stick his successor with more Democratic resistance on Capitol Hill.

Sharice Davids is among the more than 300 candidates, all Democrats, Obama has backed.

Nearly two-thirds of the candidates he chose in this latest round are women. So far, Davids is the only House candidate in Kansas endorsed by Obama.

She’s appeared to be leading incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder in the race to represent the 3rd Congressional District that covers most of Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Not so private

State lawmakers and child advocates on a panel looking at Kansas foster care are at least contemplating an end to the state’s privatization of the system.

Stephen Koranda reports the Child Welfare System Task Force will make its recommendations to state lawmakers for the 2019 legislative session.

“We know we’re at a crossroads with our child welfare system in the state of Kansas,” said  Democratic state Rep. Jarrod Ousley. “This doesn’t say to de-privatize tomorrow. This says to evaluate the benefits of privatizing child welfare services.”

Yet even Sen. Laura Kelly, the Democratic nominee for governor and a frequent critic of the Department for Children and Families, said it’s better to pursue immediate fixes rather than wholesale changes.

“We’ve got to improve the system now,” she said. “We don’t have time to put into place a transition from what we’ve got to what we might want.”

The panel could recommend a long-term evaluation of privatized foster care. That would allow new foster care contracts, and corresponding changes, to take effect before a study would start.

The consideration comes after a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped at the office of a foster care contractor in May.

Another small-city hospital closing

Fort Scott, Kansas, is losing its hospital. Mercy, the St. Louis-based health system that operates the city’s hospital, announced this week that the facility will close by year’s end.

Mercy says the number of patients is dropping along with the reimbursement rate the 46-bed hospital is paid for the patients it does treat.

Madeline Fox reports that many of the physicians with privileges at the hospital will maintain practices in Fort Scott.

For whom the road tolls

It’s enough to make a driver go all William Least Heat-Moon. The Kansas Turnpike Authority cranked up toll rates this week.

Brian Grimmett reports that a regular passenger vehicle paying cash now forks out about 12.5 percent more than last week. So a trip on Kansas 96 from Wichita to the south end of Topeka, for instance, costs $8 instead of $7.

Cars with K-Tags will see a slightly lower increase. Overall, K-Tag users will now save about 25 percent compared to those who don’t.

The price increase is meant to help pay for more than 40 projects the KTA, including adding highway speed toll booths in Topeka and near the Kansas-Oklahoma border.

Equals about one fewer freshman per kegger

Enrollment at public colleges in Kansas fell about half a percent this fall.

Stephan Bisaha reports that public colleges across the state have seen flat enrollment for years.

Meantime, enrollment at technical colleges grew about 5 percent.

The number of students signing up at community colleges is off about 2.5 percent.

Pick ‘em

The latest tally of polls in the Kansas governor’s race shows a dead heat. Real Clear Politics’ collection of surveys puts Kansas in the toss-up column.

Most recently, an Emerson College poll showed Republican Kris Kobach leading Kelly by a single point, well within the margin of error.

Independent candidate Greg Orman appears, for now, stuck in single digits, with Kobach and Kelly drawing from 35 to 39 percent each in various polls. Roughly 15 percent of likely voters say they’re undecided.  

But will they get you a job?

The candidates for governor have differing, big-ish, ideas for the state's economy.

Kobach contends cutting regulations and taxes will rev up business.

Kelly thinks spending on education will put Kansas in a better spot.

Orman contends Kansas needs to capitalize on its center-of-the-country advantage and become a transportation and shipping hub.

Brian Grimmett talked to economists about what ideas hold the most promise. For the most part, they concludethat a governor's influence on the economy in a small state is pretty minimal.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

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

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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