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Daniel Caudill / Kansas News Service

Kansas lawmakers are nearing decisions on two big issues — Medicaid expansion and a constitutional amendment on abortion.

They’re also talking about how to raise more money without increasing taxes. One idea is to legalize wagering on sporting events.

We talk about all that and with Republican state Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Committee on Rural Revitalization, on this edition of Statehouse Blend Kansas.

The number of black farmers in the U.S. is shrinking — down to less than 2% of total farmers — and many are losing their land.

Members of the Kansas Black Farmers Association are working with the state in hopes of reversing that trend.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

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

ANTHONY, Kansas — Few things signal a rural community’s decline more powerfully than the closure of its hospital.

Like shuttered schools and empty Main Streets, an abandoned hospital serves as a tangible reminder of the erosive power of decades of population loss and unrelenting economic trends.

Segment 1: A genealogist tells us how she finds the stories behind our ancestry. 

You might think researching your ancestry is just about building your family tree. Ahead of a presentation this Friday, a researcher for PBS' "Finding Your Roots" and NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" says you can find out a lot more if you keep digging.

Segment 1: What the latest StoryCorps project can teach us about talking politics.

It's become an accepted truth that Americans are deeply divided on the issues that matter to us most. Why is that, and can taking the time to listen make a difference? That's what One Small Step, a StoryCorps collaboration, tried to find out. The local facilitators of the program share their takeaways.

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.

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.

On a sunny afternoon in Sedalia, Mo., a town between St. Louis and Kansas City, Jennifer and Matt Boatright escorted some unusual visitors into a pasture on their farm. They opened the heavy gate and called their sheep over to meet a half-dozen medical students from the University of Missouri system. 

The farm tour was part of a week-long program designed to introduce future doctors, pharmacists and nurses to rural life.  The goal: Get the students interested in working in rural areas.


Why Rural Hospitals Keep Closing Maternity Wards

Sep 30, 2019

Jessica Sheridan’s plan was to have her first daughter at the local hospital, five minutes from her house in Iowa Falls.

But when she was seven months pregnant, that plan suddenly changed.

Jean Peters Baker

Sep 19, 2019

Jean Peters Baker has been the Jackson County Prosecutor since 2011, and she's often in the news, but usually talking about everything but herself. Today we learn about her personal life experience and how it's shaped her indignation in the courtroom and beyond. Plus, insights into her political aspirations and the future of the Democratic Party in Missouri.

Air Ambulances Woo Rural Kansans With Memberships That May Leave Them Hanging

Sep 16, 2019
Sarah Jane Tribble / Kaiser Health News

FORT SCOTT, Kansas — On a hot June day, as the Good Ol’ Days Festival was in full swing, 7-year-old Kaidence Anderson sat in the shade with her family waiting for a medevac helicopter to land.

A crowd had gathered to see the display pre-arranged by staff at the town’s historic fort.

“It’s going to show us how it’s going to help other people because we don’t have the hospital anymore,” the redheaded girl explained.

Segment 1: Could opportunity zones change the landscape of investment in Kansas City?

As part of the bipartisan 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, opportunity zones encouraging private investment in distressed areas have been identified in every state. We get an explainer on how it works, along with on-the-ground insights into how the five opportunity zones in Kansas City, Missouri might stand to benefit. 

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Dena Duffin, 53, pulls her teenage son close as she looks into the trailer stuffed with tables, tubs of housewares and whatever else they were able to salvage when the tornado ripped their home off its foundation the night of May 28.

“I gave that to my dad,” she says, pointing to a dented copper tub. “And there’s a stepstool and shelf my dad made for us. You can’t replace those kinds of things.”

Rural communities are some of the most politically disenfranchised when it comes to climate policy, and last year’s National Climate Change Report showed they’re also among the most at risk when it comes to the effect of climate change. This could mean stronger storms, more intense droughts and earlier freezes.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday she’ll dispatch her lieutenant governor to a dozen small cities across the state in hopes of crafting a plan to aid rural areas.

Kelly created the Office of Rural Prosperity and named Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers to head it in January soon after taking office.

Rogers will travel to 12 rural communities this summer to “listen to Kansans” and develop “long-term, sustainable solutions” to problems that have spurred decades of population decline in all but a handful of the state’s 105 counties.

Bethany Wood / For the Kansas News Service

Stephanneth Adams plans to leave Kansas.

The nurse practitioner landed in the state’s rural southwest — where she saw patients in Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal — through a federal program aimed at stubborn health care shortages in urban and rural America.

But why stay? Adams has her eyes on Nevada, a state that lets its most educated nurses roll up their sleeves and work without permanently needing, as they do in Kansas, permission from a physician.

David Kaup / For The Hechinger Report

EFFINGHAM, Kansas — In 2014, a cash-strapped school district in rural northeast Kansas turned to its residents with a plea: Pay a little more in taxes annually so we can renovate classrooms, update the wiring and give students better spaces to learn.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

In a recent national survey, farmers said the biggest threat to their livelihoods wasn’t low commodity prices or global trade policies. It was the rising cost of health insurance.

It’s one of the reasons why state farm bureaus have jumped into the insurance game in Iowa, Tennessee and Nebraska, and are trying to in Kansas.

Bethany Wood / For the Kansas News Service

DODGE CITY — Check out Dodge City.

A new $12 million waterpark. A shiny new craft brewery — not far from the new whiskey distillery. And, yes, that trendy new downtown cafe.

A nearly $6 million addition to Boot Hill Museum just kicked off last fall. That’s about when Dodge City wrapped up $86 million in renovations and expansions to its schools.

Segment 1: What happens to a community without access to a four-year college?

The majority of college freshmen enroll at schools within 50 miles from home. But what if there isn't a four-year university nearby? In this conversation, we take a look at the effects education deserts have on communities and how Dodge City, Kansas, is looking to address theirs.

Erica Hunzinger / Harvest Public Media / KCUR 89.3

Whether it's corn, wheat or soybean, Kansas grows it. And given the importance of those crops to the United States economy, people who live in cities might be forgiven for thinking the Sunflower State's farmers have it made.

Paul Johnson, an organic farmer in Jefferson County, just northeast of Topeka, and a policy analyst for the Kansas Rural Center, says the situation in farmland is much more dire than most people know.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Paging all adjuncts

Some five dozen University of Kansas professors and librarians decided to take up the school on its buyout offer. KU is looking to cut its faculty ranks, particularly instructors who weigh down the school’s payroll most heavily.

Stephen Koranda reports that about a fourth of the faculty eligible for the voluntary early retirement offer took the deal.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Revving up revenues

Remember the tax cuts engineered by then-Gov. Sam Brownback? And recall how those tax cuts were followed, month after month and year after year by state tax revenue shortfalls?

Turns out their impact was underestimated all the time. And so the reversal of those tax cuts means more money than lawmakers had bargained on.

Stephen Koranda tells us that a new report raises the state’s projected tax collections for the current budget year by $300 million, about 4.5 percent.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Leading by a neck

Election soothsayer fivethirtyeight.com, the respected outfit run by former New York Times poll analyst Nate Silver, projects that Secretary of Kris Kobach has a two-in-three chance of being the next governor of Kansas.

USDA

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-1 on Tuesday to undo Obama-era rules intended to help small companies provide faster wireless internet service.

The FCC said the decision will foster more investment and use of the 3.5 gigahertz band, a radio frequency spectrum that can be used for 5G internet service.

But small wireless internet service providers said the decision could shut smaller players out — limiting their ability to bid on licenses and deliver broadband in rural areas.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Super(natural?) savings

Kris Kobach contends that he could cut nearly $2 billion from the cost of Kansas Medicaid budget.

The hard-line conservative Republican running for governor sees a way to cut those costs by adopting direct primary care, also known as concierge care.

Crysta Henthorne / Kansas News Service

Boondocks broadband

How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm if they can’t stream Netflix?

The Federal Communications Commission sent seven grants to Kansas totaling $4.7 million to expand  rural access to broadband internet.

Segment 1: Growing up poor in the Heartland.

Local journalist and author Sarah Smarsh has been getting a lot of national attention for her new book, Heartland. On this episode, we chat with Smarsh about the forces that shaped her Kansas childhood.

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.

Segment 1: Tailgating is more than an activity in Kansas City. It's a culture.

Tailgating is a big deal to local sports fans. Why is that and what's the meaning behind it? On this episode, we explore those questions and more in light of a controversial new tailgating policy at Arrowhead Stadium.

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