Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — Kansas schools find themselves entangled in a debate about the past and whether critical race theory — the left's notion that America has yet to atone for its white supremacist origins and the right’s allergy to that world view — ought to guide the teaching of history and politics.

Psychiatric facilities across Kansas added enough beds last year to potentially dramatically cut the number of children waiting for intensive mental health care.

But about 100 of those spots remain empty — in large part because organizations can’t find workers.

In recent years, children have had to wait months for openings in specialized facilities that offer long-term psychiatric care. In mid-2018, the average wait neared 200 days.

The waits fell in 2019 and 2020. As of last month, the average wait stood at 44 days.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described whether U.S. Reps. Jake LaTurner and Rep. Ron Estes had used earmarks. Estes opposed the return to using earmarks, and a spokesman for LaTurner previously said he did not participate, but both have made multiple earmark requests to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

David Condos / Kansas News Service

New survey results show that reluctance to get COVID-19 vaccinations has dropped in Kansas.

At the same time, worries about vaccine side effects seem to be increasing.

In a typical February, the small Wabaunsee school district just west of Topeka pays a natural gas utility bill of about $4,300. This year, its bill was more than $53,000.

It’s not because classrooms were cranking up the heat. Wabaunsee is just one of hundreds of school districts in Kansas hit by an unprecedented spike in wholesale natural gas prices during February’s record-setting winter storm. Now the state is stepping in with $20 million in loans to help. 

Republicans are pushing Gov. Kelly to eliminate the $300 additional weekly unemployment payments because they say the money makes it harder to fill open jobs.

The push by Republicans to end the $300 dollar per week additional federal unemployment payment in Kansas reached a peak this week with a letter signed by 200 groups calling on the governor to eliminate the benefit.

But there was one problem: leaders of some of those groups say they never agreed to sign the letter.

It was a stumble in what has been a coordinated effort by Republicans to urge the Democratic governor to end the payments. The GOP and business groups argue the larger unemployment payments are keeping workers at home and making it harder to fill jobs.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas, a state that relies heavily on the cattle industry to power its economy, faces a shortage of the veterinarians that tend to the livestock.

So it’s launched a task force to find how to draw more people who can doctor the livestock driving billions of dollars in economic activity.

What does it cost a school district to replace an offensive mascot?

Some Kansas schools are starting to find out.

Chris Neal / Kansas News Service

The union that represents Kansas meatpacking workers has launched a nationwide push to convince more of its members to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The campaign teams virtual town halls with in-person outreach targeting Latino workers.

SALINA, Kansas — Ebony Murell and a few interns meticulously sort 99 kinds of silphium. It’s a wild relative to a sunflower. And the biologists at The Land Institute — an outfit devoted to finding out how science can make farming more planet-friendly — want to unravel the plant’s secrets for tolerating bugs and diseases.

“We don’t know what all of these traits mean in terms of plant defenses,” Murell said. “Any or all of them could matter.”

TOPEKA, Kansas — After ousting moderates and electing more conservatives in the 2020 elections, Kansas Republicans road-tested their brawny supermajority at the end of the 2021 legislative session.

That political muscle allowed the conservatives who control the Legislature to override several of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas took its first major step toward legalizing medical marijuana Thursday when the conservative Republicans who dominate the state House passed a bill that tracks a national trend and bucks federal law.

Kansas-style legalization would regulate everything from patient access to cannabis advertising.

David Condos / Kansas News Service

HAYS, Kansas — A few years ago, Stuart Beckman drove 65 miles with a neighbor to attend a wedding in Saint Francis in the northwest corner of Kansas.

The two farmers weren’t particularly welcome. 

“They found out where we were from,” Beckman said, “and they just about ran us out of there.”

Not surprisingly for this part of the High Plains, the trouble started over water.

Tens of thousands of uninsured Kansans qualify for enough government subsidies to get free health insurance.

That was the case even before the passage of Congress' latest stimulus package in March, but now those benefits are available to many more people.

For some, the potential savings for 2021 and 2022 health plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace are dramatic.

Scientists say that if we’re going to stop rising global temperatures, the world will need to greatly reduce the amount of carbon it’s emitting into the air.

Electricity production is one of the largest culprits and transitioning away from fossil fuels is seen as a key step in stopping climate change.

Under mounting pressure to ditch fossil fuels and amid shifting economics that make coal increasingly less competitive, the largest utility in Kansas pledges to close nearly all of its coal-burning plants in the next 20 years.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republicans trying to push through a ban on transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports fell short Monday of overriding Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of the bill.

State officials told Kansas schools they could fill the air with chemical mist to fight COVID-19 in classrooms.

The suggested gadgets coat doorknobs, tables and other surfaces with disinfectant.

But when the Kansas News Service showed the state guidance on electrostatic sprayers and foggers to scientists, one called it “surprising and disappointing.” Another classified it as “a huge error.”

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach kicked off a race for state attorney general Thursday, aiming his hardline immigration and voting policy politics at the state's top legal and law enforcement office.

Kobach called the office a last line of defense against policies pushed by President Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress. He raised concerns about limiting gun rights, the federal government setting election laws and immigration policy.

Last year, as more of us flocked outdoors — to hike or spend time in our own backyard — Humanities Kansas started to explore the idea of creating something tangible to make the experience more meaningful.

“We’d always talked about the concept of DIY humanities, humanities where you are,” says associate director Tracy Quillin, “and having a tool to connect people with that.”

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas lawmakers return to the Statehouse next week for a showdown with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly over issues at the heart of both culture wars and taxes.

While legislators took a break, Kelly vetoed a range of high-profile bills. Now the conservative Republicans who control the Legislature face the challenge of overrides with slim margins to pull that off.

Republican Senate President Ty Masterson blasted the governor for striking down bills ranging from tax cuts to restrictions on transgender athletes.

This story has been updated.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill Friday that would have lowered the legal age for carrying concealed weapons.

The legal age is 21, but the majority-Republican Legislature wants to allow permits once people turn 18.

Kelly, a Democrat, described herself as a “long-time supporter of Second Amendment rights.”

“But there are times when it goes too far,” she said shortly before her office announced the veto.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Arguing a ban on transgender athletes in girls’ and women’s sports invites bullying, Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill that mirrored Republican efforts across the country that would have states policing high school and college sports.

“We should be focused on how to include all students in extracurricular activities rather than how to exclude those who may be different than us,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Kansas is an inclusive state and our laws should reflect our values. This (bill) does not do that.”

Even as Kansas remains far from reaching the coveted public health standard of herd immunity against COVID-19 — essentially starving off the virus because it runs out of vulnerable bodies — more than 60 counties just turned down their weekly allotment of vaccine doses.

 MANHATTAN, Kansas — Ellen Welti has a Ph.D. in, essentially, grasshoppers.

And yet she was still mystified about why the number of grasshoppers in a long-protected and much-studied patch of Kansas prairie was dropping. Steadily. For 25 years.

After all, the grass that the springy bugs feast on had actually grown more robustly as it absorbed mounting levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So why were the grasshoppers faring increasingly worse?

WICHITA, Kansas —Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is signaling she’ll likely reject a bill that’s part of a culture war flashpoint — an effort in Kansas and other states to bar transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s sports.

Kelly makes a practice of not explicitly threatening vetos, but critical comments this week hint that she’s likely to strike the legislation down with her veto pen.

Ansel Armstrong had just found a psychologist when COVID-19 turned the world upside down, forcing in-person care to go remote.

So video sessions replaced a 40-minute drive between Lawrence and Topeka.

“I love how much it frees up my schedule,” Armstrong said. It eased the process in other ways, too. “It’s like, you’re at home. I have my cat on my lap. I think it was a less stressful experience.”

This story has been updated.

TOPEKA, Kansas — Republicans in the Kansas Senate weathered the initial arrest of their majority leader for drunken driving, but they booted him from leadership Friday after details of his arrest painted a picture of dangerous belligerence.

Senate Republicans met after finishing their work and voted in a closed-door meeting to remove Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop of Wichita from the job. Suellentrop did not attend the meeting or issue a statement. He will keep his seat in the Senate.

POR CORTESÍA DE ENRIQUE RODRÍGUEZ FRANZ

LIBERAL, Kansas — Una mujer piensa que la pandemia de la COVID-19 fue planeada, hecha por el hombre.

Un hombre no se inocula porque sospecha que otros países usan a los estadounidenses como sujetos de estudio para sus vacunas.

Tres cuartos de este grupo de enfoque que se reúnen en un centro comunitario en Liberal, habían oído que las vacunas podrían contener microchips para que el gobierno pueda rastrear a la gente, a pesar de que la mayoría dice que ya no creen en ese mito.

Chris Neal / Kansas News Service

Amtrak plans to restart daily passenger service on its Southwest Chief route across Kansas beginning May 31.

In October, Amtrak cut the line’s daily service down to three days a week because of the pandemic. But the company says new federal COVID-19 relief funding will allow it to restore daily service on the Southwest Chief and 11 more of its long distance routes over the next few months.

Pages