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. Bookmark our homepage at ksnewsservice.org

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 Forward Foundation. Additional support comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Maria Galvan used to make about $25,000 a year. She didn’t qualify for welfare, but she still had trouble meeting her basic needs.

“I would just be working just to be poor and broke,” she said. “It would be so frustrating.”

When things got bad, the single mother and Topeka resident took out a payday loan. That meant borrowing a small amount of money at a high interest rate, to be paid off as soon as she got her next check.

Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3

Tony Berg is out as publisher of The Kansas City Star and Mike Fannin, its editor since 2008, has been named president of the newspaper.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to My Fellow Kansans. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

COURTLAND, Kansas — Rural Kansas has a storied past, but decades of population decline stand poised to turn many once-vibrant places into ghost towns. 

The struggle for survival reveals itself in emptied Main Streets, shuttered factories and tired-looking neighborhoods dominated by houses built before World War II.

An exodus that started more than 100 years ago and gained momentum during the Great Depression has now thinned the population of most of the state’s 105 counties to fewer than 10 people per square mile.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

DIGHTON, Kansas — A billboard along Interstate 70 boasting about the productivity of Kansas farmers may say more about what’s happening in agriculture than those who put it there realize.

The message seems simple and straightforward: “1 Kansas Farmer Feeds 155 People + You!”

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

Go here to subscribe to the My Fellow Kansans. This season, we look at the prospects of rural places.

PHILLIPSBURG, Kansas — The opening of a child care center attracts little notice in a city or suburb.

In rural Kansas, it’s cause for celebration.

The focus on young families, and the hope that represents, is remarkably rare in small towns fighting for survival against forces largely beyond their control.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

A private insurer’s 2018 premiums in Kansas ran too high — at least compared to the medical bills it had to pay for customers that year.

That means thousands of Kansans get money back this fall because they got overcharged last year.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

A former top official of Leawood-based American Multi-Cinema Inc. says she was fired after she pointed out disparities between her pay and that of her male counterparts.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Tonya Mangels, who was vice president-product marketing before her termination on Sept. 30, says male vice presidents at AMC were paid between 56% and 72% more than she was and received bigger stock grants. The pay difference amounted to between $117,000 and $149,000, according to her complaint.

WICHITA — Ashley and Erin Watt have always enjoyed the outdoors.

Over the years, they’ve spent a lot of time floating down the Arkansas River in south-central Kansas. Because of record-setting rains this spring, the two didn’t make their first kayak trip down the river until mid-August.

But what started as a leisurely trip ended with a remarkable discovery.

Evert Nelson / The Topeka-Capital-Journal

From cries of heartbreak to a call for the prosecution of men who pay for sex with girls, Kansas lawmakers said the story of Hope Zeferjohn, a teen victim of sex-trafficking who was prosecuted for sex crimes, focuses a harsh light on a state system that is supposed to protect children.

Edmund D. Fountain

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

On the last Tuesday of July, Tres Biggs stepped into the courthouse in Coffeyville, Kansas, for medical debt collection day, a monthly ritual in this quiet city of 9,000, just over the Oklahoma border. He was one of 90 people who had been summoned, sued by the local hospital, or doctors, or an ambulance service over unpaid bills. Some wore eye patches and bandages; others limped to their seats by the wood-paneled walls. Biggs, who is 41, had to take a day off from work to be there. He knew from experience that if he didn’t show up, he could be put in jail.

Agencies across Kansas are warning drivers to take additional caution as deer mating season begins, bringing higher levels of deer activity.

Sedgwick County had the highest reported cases of vehicle-deer collisions in the state last year with 418 cases. Butler County followed with 384 collisions.

Shawn Steward from the AAA of Kansas says the average cost per claim from car damage due to animal collisions is nearly $4,300.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Updated 12:30 p.m., Oct. 17, 2019 — Democrat Barry Grissom has dropped out and endorsed state Sen. Barbara Bollier.

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts says he will not run for re-election in 2020, opening the door to a parade of candidates announcing a run or considering jumping into the race to replace him. Multiple Republicans are eyeing the seat, and it could be the first time Democrats have a competitive U.S. Senate primary since the 1990s.

Here’s the rundown of who’s seeking the seat in Washington: 

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

The Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts on Monday joined at least five other school districts nationwide that have authorized lawsuits against the country’s leading e-cigarette maker, Juul Labs. 

Both districts approved resolutions seeking damages they claim they’ve incurred as a result of students’ use of the devices.

Fernando Salazar / Special to the Capital-Journal

At first, they wanted to save her.

Then, after she fled the Kansas foster care system at age 16 and fell victim to the commercial sex trade, social workers told her she was going to prison forever.

"When I went into foster care and they wanted to take me away from my family, I ran," she said. "I ran away, and that's how I really started to get into all of this trouble. After I ran away, that's when they started treating me like, 'Oh, you're a suspect and you're not innocent.'

Information’s great. But what about insight?

A fresh University of Kansas study contends state educators put too much emphasis on data and too little on the savvy and experience of teachers.

2017 file photo / Topeka Capital-Journal

Hope Joy Zeferjohn was missing from the Kansas Capitol on the day her family was posing for pictures with the governor.

It was May 22, 2015, and then-Gov. Sam Brownback was signing a proclamation for Family Reunification Month.

Zeferjohn’s parents and siblings stood behind him, literal poster children for Brownback’s efforts to return children to their homes from foster care.

Nomin Ujiyediin / Kansas News Service

Even though it’s the offseason, Kansas Rep. Rui Xu says being a legislator is a full-time job.

Over the course of a week, on top of his part-time gig as a freelance marketer, the Democrat spends 20 to 30 hours meeting with constituents in Johnson County, going to events, working on legislation or helping city council candidates run for office.

Xu isn’t paid for that work. Like every other member of the Kansas Legislature, he only draws a salary from the state during the legislative session, from about January to May. This year, his first in office, he got $19,300.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — Cigarettes are so yesterday.

Or yesteryear.

That’s why that old-fashioned, combustible path to a nicotine buzz wasn’t the top concern for a small group of high schoolers in Sabetha — a 2,500-person town about an hour north of Topeka near the Nebraska border — when they got city council to hike the minimum age for buying tobacco products to 21.

“I don’t really know anyone that smokes cigarettes around here because they’re really gross,” Sabetha High senior Kinsey Menold said. “Then, like, Juuls came in.”

Chris Neal/Kansas News Service

Rural Kansas has a storied past. But as once-thriving towns continue to shrink — does it have a future? That depends on who you ask. In season two of My Fellow Kansans, host Jim McLean explores rural Kansas to discover what the future holds for rural communities across the state. 

Our conversation begins October 18. Subscribe now.

A KU Med School Hoped To Keep Grads In Rural Areas, But City Practices Beckoned

Oct 9, 2019
Aaron Patton / for Kaiser Health News

SALINA, Kansas — The University of Kansas School of Medicine-Salina opened in 2011 — a one-building campus in the heart of wheat country dedicated to producing the rural doctors the country needs.

Now, eight years later, the school’s first graduates are settling into their chosen practices — and locales. And those choices are cause for both hope and despair.

Anonymous

A former high-ranking official of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, was sentenced Wednesday for misdemeanor battery against a female employee. 

Former General Services Director Tib Laughlin faces 12 months of probation, and must attend anger management classes and continued mental health counseling.

Frank Morris / KCUR and NPR

Most farmers haven't had a single good year since President Trump took office, and Trump’s policies on trade, immigration and ethanol are part of the problem.

Yet farmers, who broadly supported Trump in 2016, are sticking with him as the impeachment inquiry moves forward.

“You see everyone circling their wagons now, and the farm community is no different in that,” says John Herath, the news director at Farm Journal.

Barbara Shelly

A growing coalition of groups and citizens wants Wyandotte County to become the first place in Kansas to issue local identification to residents.

Advocates estimate a municipal ID program could potentially benefit about 30,000 persons by making it easier for them to open bank accounts, enroll children in school and access health care.

Dan Margolies / KCUR 89.3

A Kansas City-based company that specializes in turning around financially distressed hospitals is proposing to purchase Hillsboro Community Hospital in rural Kansas for $6.9 million.

The company, Rural Hospital Group, was formed in 2017 and has acquired three other rural hospitals: one in Wellington, Kansas; another  in Boonville, Missouri; and a third in Marion, Kentucky. It has since sold the hospital in Boonville.

There have been more than 1,000 illnesses and multiple deaths linked to e-cigarettes. Now some research from Butler University finds the health problems of vaping go even further. 

Lisa Rodriguez / KCUR 89.3

A family-oriented community where “everyone knows everyone.” That’s how people describe the area around 10th Street and Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, where four men were gunned down and five more injured at a modest, neighborhood bar early Sunday morning.

“It’ll never be the same. It’ll never be the same in there,” said an employee of Tequila KC, who only identified herself as Jody. She said most of the people in the bar Saturday night were regulars.

Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3

Following a trend across the Johnson County suburbs, the Overland Park City Council passed an ordinance Monday night banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bigstock

The Olathe School District on Monday filed suit against the nation’s leading maker of e-cigarettes, charging it deliberately markets its products to school-age children and misleads them about their dangers.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, says that Juul Labs Inc. has “succeeded in addicting a generation of youth to nicotine” by adopting the marketing tactics of the tobacco industry.

Kansas City, Kansas, Police Department

Updated 7:25 p.m. Oct. 7 — One suspect remained at large Monday evening, while another was in custody, in the killing of four people and the wounding of five others in a shooting at a Kansas City, Kansas, bar over the weekend.

Police have identified the four men who were killed at Tequila KC as Martin Rodriguez-Gonzales, 58; Alfredo Calderon, 29; Ebar Meza-Aguirre, 29, and Francisco Anaya-Garcia, 34.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Updated at 7:00 a.m. Oct. 7 — Celeste Trevino was dancing with a "friend of a friend" early Sunday morning at Tequila KC. It was about a half-hour before closing time when two men came into the close-knit neighborhood bar in Kansas City, Kansas. One of the men walked toward the pair.

“We were talking and dancing,” she said through tears at a Sunday night vigil, “and the next thing I knew, he wasn’t there anymore.”

Her dance partner, whom she called Ever, was killed, along with three other Latino men ranging in age from their mid 20 to late 50s. Five others were wounded. Police said they don’t believe the shooting was racially motivated — but said it wasn’t random, either.

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