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Recent Kansas editorials

June 12, 2018

The Wichita Eagle, June 8

Kansas is changing and there’s a challenge to adapt to it

Kansans are aging, moving to urban centers and becoming less white.

Those broad findings from a detailed report about the state’s next five decades by the Kansas Health Foundation and Kansas Health Institute shouldn’t surprise us. They should, however, act as a reminder that as the state continues to grow and these trends continue, there is much work to be done to ensure the greatest chance at economic and social success for all Kansans.

Growing challenges are highlighted in the report, which focuses on how the state is impacted by healthy lifestyles and how individuals, government and health organizations are part of solutions.

While Kansas is projected to grow by 25.1 percent overall by 2066, the growth rate of residents age 65 and older is projected to rise by almost 70 percent. That creates a continuing shift in focus for health-care providers, who will see more cases of later-in-life health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

An older population, much of which is rural, helps the shift in Kansans from smaller cities and towns to urban areas such as Wichita, Kansas City, Lawrence and Manhattan. Projections in population shifts are some of the most glaring in the study.

The Lawrence area is projected to grow by 126 percent by 2066. Manhattan and Junction City combined should almost double in size, Kansas City will grow by 45 percent and the Wichita area is projected to grow by 28.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the report projects a 32 percent decline in eastern Kansas’ rural counties over that time and a 20 percent decline in western Kansas’ rural counties. From 2000 to 2016, 82 of 105 counties lost population, a continuing challenge to small communities needing to keep up with the best educators, health-care professionals and other leaders.

The most striking component of the study is the continuing growth in diversity within Kansas’ borders. Non-Hispanic whites continue to make up just more than three-quarters of the population, but that percentage was 84.1 in 2000. Whites in Kansas decreased by 0.3 percent in that period.

All population growth in Kansas from 2000 to 2016 was among minorities — 52.5 percent. That’s more than the national average (44.8).

Some will see those figures as drastic change in Kansas. It’s change, yes, but not drastic — a sign similar to the rest of the nation. What we should recognize is that it’s here to stay and there are challenges that come with it — challenges that can be overcome given acknowledgment and preparation.

The study notes that healthy living is contingent on many behaviors, some of which are universal — healthy eating, physical activity, and a decision not to use tobacco. But other risk factors — poverty, education — weigh heavily. In today’s Kansas, minority populations experience these significant hurdles at higher rates than whites.

We as Kansans need to get ahead of these problems. Local and state officials must recognize the part they play.

School districts bear the biggest challenges. A better education, whether it be completion of high school or beyond, offers more of an opportunity for success in the workforce and less chance of poverty.

Districts already report higher numbers of students who speak little or no English. English as a Second Language instructors will be in higher demand statewide. Schools are also a first responder in combating hunger among its students who come from low-income households.

We are better as a community and state when we look past skin color and ethnicity, but we can’t ignore challenges that Kansas will face with its changing demographics.

The Kansas Health Foundation has provided a view of the 50-year finish line. It’s up to Kansans to decide how we want to get there.

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The Topeka Capital-Journal, June 7

Kansans must re-evaluate foster care system

An abused or neglected child, their few belongings likely in grocery bags, with no home to go to is heart-wrenching. Many of these children are difficult to place because they have complex needs, including psychiatric care. Our state is failing our most vulnerable, and the failures are tragically predictable for anyone closely following the foster care system in Kansas over the past few years.

Child welfare advocates have expressed alarm for many years about a dropping number of psychiatric care beds for foster children in spite of increasing need.

Two psychiatric residential treatment facilities operate in Topeka: Pathways Family Services and Florence Crittenton. These organizations also offer emergency care for children not in need of psychiatric residential placement. They do difficult work with vulnerable children and are worthy of support. Both have shared concerns, alongside other such facilities across the state, about their ability to care for children in need in the midst of cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates.

Since 2013, the number of psychiatric residential treatment facilities in Kansas has dropped from 11 to eight, with 222 fewer beds, even as the number of children needing services in Kansas trends upward.

Contracted Medicaid providers can also limit the amount of time children can stay in psychiatric residential treatment facilities. Disturbingly, the average time in which children stay in such facilitates varies significantly based on the provider. In light of foster care contractor revelations that many of the children sleeping in offices have had multiple trips in and out of residential psychiatric care, the state should take a careful look at how long children are allowed to receive care and if the amount of time is meeting their needs.

In addition to demanding a stronger safety net for abused and neglected children, concerned Kansans should consider becoming foster parents. Foster parents have the opportunity to provide much more than an office space to children in need, offering safe, loving environments to those who need them most.

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The Lawrence Journal-World, June 11

Party of the Center fell short this year but should push on.

A group of Kansans pushing for the creation of a centrist party is right to continue their efforts despite coming up short in 2018. After all, Kansans can only benefit from additional political options, especially one dedicated to counter balancing political extremism on either side.

Organizers of the Party of the Center said they fell short of getting the 18,000 signatures required to get party candidates on this year’s ballot. The deadline was June 1.

Still, Scott Morgan of Lawrence, one of the leading proponents of the new party, said the group is encouraged about its prospects for 2020. “We’re in it for the long game,” Morgan said.

Morgan, who ran unsuccessfully for Kansas secretary of state as a Republican in 2014 and left the Republican Party last year to focus on the Party of the Center, told KCUR last week that the proposed party is focused more on process and good government than ideology.

“That unserved, untapped market of people who are lost without a party is just massive,” he said.

Polling shows large negative ratings for both Democrats and Republicans, and an increasing number of people who identify as independents. But despite the dissatisfaction with the two major parties, third-party efforts have largely been unsuccessful on state and national levels. Even if a majority of voters identify more with the general philosophies of the center, most feel strongly about one or two issues that can drive alignment with one of the two major parties.

That creates an uphill battle for third-party efforts.

Under Kansas law, in order for a new party to be recognized and have its candidates listed on the ballot, organizers must collect petition signatures equal to 2 percent of all the ballots cast in the last election for governor. That’s 18,000 signatures based on the turnout in the 2014 gubernatorial race. If the signature drive is successful, the party must nominate at least one candidate for a statewide office each gubernatorial election cycle, and its candidates must get at least 1 percent of the vote in order for the party to keep its recognition.

The Party of the Center does have the assistance of the Serve America Movement, a national 527 political organization founded in 2017. One of SAM’s primary missions is to reform the nation’s political system by ensuring voters have more choices on the ballot in general elections and chose Kansas as a pilot state for its efforts.

“Nearly a third of Kansans identify as unaffiliated,” said SAM organizer Sarah Lenti, who previously served in the George W. Bush administration. “We believe that this sizeable group of unaffiliateds — and yes, even some self-identified Republicans and Democrats — are looking for new and different options when it comes to candidates.”

Kansas’ recent history is evidence that while ideology and extremism have appeal in campaign cycles, they often don’t foster good government. A party dedicated to supporting moderates focused specifically on good governance would offer Kansans a welcome alternative to some of the options they’ve had in the past.

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