- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Kansas City Star, April 22

Anti-gay threats convinced a teacher to quit. Is this the kind of state Kansas wants to be?

There are 1,603 unfilled teaching jobs in Kansas right now, according to the website that posts them, out of some 34,000 such positions in the state. The site also says, “Kansas, a great place to teach and live!”

But what it doesn’t say is no secret: According to the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics, the starting salary for Kansas teachers is down an average of 4.3 percent in constant dollars from what they were paid 16 years earlier. And while Kansas has a lot to recommend it, teacher pay that ranks 45th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia is not an enticement.

So when an excellent, deeply committed visual arts and theater teacher in rural Kansas, where recruitment is especially challenging, feels he has no choice but to leave the state after receiving a series of threatening letters about his sexual orientation, that’s hurtful not only to that man and that community, but also to the whole state’s reputation and to its already struggling and under-funded education system.



It’s an offense to the common decency and common sense that Kansas is rightly known for. And it’s a hindrance to the effort to rebuild public schools hobbled by former Gov. Sam Brownback’s deep and deeply harmful tax cuts.

Discrimination, as always, is a social justice issue, but it’s an economic issue, too, with many companies these days as interested in tolerant attitudes as in tax incentives.

Nemaha Central High School in Seneca, Kan., population 2,000, is sorry to lose Michael Hill, who had also started a community theater program in the town. Hill has said he wanted to stay but felt he had no choice but to relocate. He moved to California in February, and his resignation was accepted with great regret earlier this month.

“Mr. Hill was our art department,” said Superintendent Darrel Kohlman. “He was the director of our plays, and he did a very good job as a classroom teacher. We’re sorry not to have him anymore.”

Ever since coming out as gay last fall, Hill had been sharing the hateful letters he received with Kohlman. In January, he also turned them over to the local police.

“Fags are not welcome in our schools,” said one of the letters, which Hill also posted on Facebook.

“Queers will burn and so will you,” said another. “Don’t think my friends and I still ain’t after you.”

“I know where you live,” said the one that convinced Hill to leave. “I know a lot about your schedule. You need to watch your back cause I ain’t alone.”

One of Hill’s sons, who is a student at the University of Kansas, said that before his father left town, one of his tires was slashed, someone wrote “faggot” in the dust on his car, and he became so concerned for his safety that the owner of his apartment installed a security camera he could monitor from his cellphone.

Police are taking the investigation seriously, and it’s no doubt true that, as Kohlman says, what happened to Hill in Seneca does “not represent the majority of our students, our district or staff, or community.”

They’re also being punished for the unlawful, uneducated actions of those behind the letters. The answer isn’t to ignore or minimize their behavior, but to send them a strong message in return: You are hurting all of us, and it’s your bigotry that isn’t welcome in Kansas.

Lawrence Journal-World, April 23

Kobach’s losing streak continues

The rebukes keep coming for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, but it remains to be seen if his missteps will affect his candidacy for governor.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found Kobach in contempt for failing to inform people they were eligible to cast ballots while a lawsuit challenging Kobach’s proof of citizenship voter registration law made its way through the courts. Robinson ordered Kobach to pay court costs, including attorney fees for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the contempt ruling. Kobach, of course, plans to appeal.

Kobach has been an unabashed supporter of tight restrictions on voter registration. During his tenure as secretary of state, Kobach pushed through the most restrictive laws in the country, requiring those wishing to register to vote to show specific documents such as a birth certificate or passport in order to register.

Kobach has maintained such laws are necessary to prevent illegal immigrants from casting ballots, even though there is no evidence supporting widespread fraud in U.S. elections. Indeed, Kobach subscribes to President Donald Trump’s theory that as many as 5 million illegal votes kept Trump from capturing the popular vote in the 2016 election.

Kobach’s methods are generally seen as thinly veiled attempts to suppress turnout of voters who lean Democratic, because voter registration laws are hardest on young people, the elderly and the poor.

Fortunately, Kobach’s efforts have not held up well in either courts of justice or public opinion.

In addition to the contempt ruling, courts also granted an injunction barring the enforcement of the Kansas law until a final ruling in the case. And judges have repeatedly chastised Kobach for missing deadlines, failing to turn over records and not complying with their orders. Kobach’s behavior has been so bad that another attorney has filed an ethics complaint against him.

Even Trump has cut Kobach loose. Kobach was appointed vice chairman of Trump’s Federal Commission on Election Integrity, but after Kobach’s efforts to get states to turn over volumes of sensitive voter data, Trump disbanded the commission amid lawsuits and infighting among the members of the commission. The commission met just twice.

Kobach’s electioneering plans were so toxic that even Trump abandoned him.

Still, polling this month by the Docking Institute shows Kobach has by far the highest name recognition among all candidates for governor. Kobach is known by 85 percent of voters, according to the poll. Independent candidate Greg Orman is a distant second at 57 percent and Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer is third at 55 percent. Of course, the same poll shows Kobach also has the highest negative ratings among voters.

Kobach has been a divisive force in Kansas politics, having spent two terms as a secretary of state singularly focused on discouraging voter participation. He has stubbornly and unapologetically refused to admit or correct the many mistakes he has made.

It’s hard to imagine Kansas voters rewarding Kobach’s record of failure with the governor’s office.

The Wichita Eagle, April 20

Kansas lawmakers banking on better revenue to get things done

A report card for any Kansas legislative session this time of year is incomplete with a wrap-up session approaching.

The problem this year is the incomplete grade may still be appropriate once lawmakers wrap up the wrap-up.

The $500 million school-funding fix signed into law by Gov. Jeff Colyer - with an $80 million fix coming after some quick math went awry - will go to the Kansas Supreme Court later in the spring, after legislators head home wondering if their work - half a billion over five years to come into compliance with the Court’s funding edict - is done.

Conservative lawmakers think the new funding figure is too much. Many Democrats think the Court will kick the new price tag back to the Statehouse as inadequate. There’s really no way to tell how the Court will rule. Attorney General Derek Schmidt on Thursday asked for an extension before addressing the Court on how the formula was reached.

But as the Legislature plays one waiting game, the wrap-up session that begins Thursday has several items to be decided.

The state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group on Friday released a revenue estimate of $533.8 million more than projected five months ago. A low estimate would have given lawmakers more concern on how to reach a 2019 budget, but Friday extended a string of upward estimates.

Many areas of state government are asking for more funding, often times to get back to amounts before prior cuts. Higher education is still smarting from 2016 cuts. The Department for Children and Families, a Colyer priority, has asked for a $16.5-million increase over two years. Most would go to hiring more social workers and staff, which would help combat rising criticism over agency performance in recent high-profile cases.

Friday’s higher revenue estimation doesn’t eliminate competition for money, but it eases concerns on having to raises revenue (taxes) from other sources. It could, however, spur conservative lawmakers to fight harder for a change to state tax code that would allow taxpayers to itemize deductions when they don’t on a federal return. One estimate says $141 million could be lost in revenue next year.

The Senate has passed the bill that’s now in the House. It’s a risk to approve such a revenue loss when it’s unclear if revenue estimates will continue to be encouraging.

A controversial adoption measure is hung up in the House. The Senate has passed the bill that would allow adoption and foster-care agencies to refuse placement to gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs. The House voted it down but may be open to a compromise.

Expansion of Medicaid, which could cover the gap for 150,000 Kansans between federal health-care exchange coverage and KanCare, the state’s privatized version of Medicaid, didn’t get off the ground during the session. That’s unlike 2017, when both chambers passed expansion bills only to have it vetoed by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

There seems to be no inclination to try again during the wrap-up session, a disappointment since federal funds supply 90 percent of expansion’s cost and so many more residents would be covered.

And where’s all that transparency we were promised? After the Kansas City Star’s Pulitzer Prize-finalist series on secret government in Kansas, legislators promised more accountability and transparency.

Talk is cheap. The Star reported that of the 19 bills introduced with the goal of greater accountability, two have been signed into law. Police must report what they seize in forfeiture cases and people who attempt to influence the executive branch on contracts must sign as lobbyists.

Two more could be signed by Colyer, but nine bills received no hearing. “Gut-and-go” stripping of bills is still popular. So is lawmakers refusing to put their names on legislation.

Maybe next year for greater transparency. Probably not.

Seven days of a wrap-up session will be as important as three-plus months of the regular session. Then Kansans wait for a decision from the state Supreme Court, which will either rule the Legislature completed its work or needs to go back for another try.

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