The Topeka Capital-Journal, Dec. 17

Child care in Kansas is expensive and inaccessible

A huge proportion of parents in the state can't find child care when they need it

According to a report released by Child Care Aware of Kansas this month, there are almost 164,000 children under age 6 who may be in need of child care in our state. Of the 105 counties in Kansas, only 16 can claim that 75 percent to 100 percent of this need is covered — and Shawnee County isn't one of them. The report found that just 60 percent of the demand for child care is met in Shawnee County.

In other counties, this proportion is far lower. Only 45 percent and 34 percent of the need is being met in Sedgwick and Wyandotte Counties, respectively (which is particularly troubling, as they have the second- and third-largest populations of children under the age of 6 in the state). In smaller counties, the numbers are often abysmal: 28 percent in Finney County, 32 percent in Ford, 21 percent in Lincoln and 18 percent in Seward. In almost half of the counties in Kansas, the report found that child care is readily available for only 50 percent or less of parents.

As the report notes, this lack of options can have significant economic effects: "When parents have the security of knowing their children are well cared for, they are more productive at work." According to the National Survey of Early Care and Education, employment is the main reason parents search for child care in the U.S. And the most recent National Study of the Changing Workforce (which is conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management) reports that more than 40 percent of workers "experience work-family conflict on a regular basis."

A previous NSCW found that 30 percent of respondents had issues with child care arrangements at some point in the three months before they took the survey.

Kansas parents also have to cope with the high cost of child care. According to the Economic Policy Institute, child care for the average four-year-old costs almost $8,000 in our state — a number that jumps to $11,201 for infants (the 17th-highest in the country). Moreover, 14 percent of the Kansas families with kids under the age of 18 have incomes below the federal poverty level. And since 2008, the number of Kansas children receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has been cut in half.

The Child Care Aware report offers a range of recommendations, from supporting potential child care providers with "scholarships, coaching and microenterprise grants" to making child care a more integral part of "community infrastructure" to giving businesses incentives to make provisions for child care.

We also need to revisit state policies, such as the rescission of TANF benefits. Since Gov. Sam Brownback took office, the lifetime limit on TANF has been cut from 60 months to 24 months. Supporters of restrictive welfare policies argue that childhood poverty has fallen in Kansas, but this has been happening across the country (the rate hit a record low in 2016). And while the childhood poverty rate has fallen from 19 percent to 14 percent since 2011, the proportion of children receiving TANF benefits plunged from more than 20 percent to around 10 percent.

All of this puts even more pressure on parents, who are already struggling to find and pay for child care. As the Economic Policy Institute explains, "A minimum wage worker in Kansas would need to work full time for 39 weeks" to afford child care for a single infant. From cost to access, it's clear that the status quo on child care in Kansas needs to change.

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The Lawrence Journal-World, Dec. 17

Initial impressions of the new leader promise a new era at the embattled state agency.

Lawrence's Gina Meier-Hummel has no small task ahead as she takes the helm of the embattled Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Meier-Hummel, who replaced Phyllis Gilmore as DCF secretary on Dec. 1, got off on the right foot last week during a meeting with a legislative task force reviewing the Kansas foster care system. Meier-Hummel certainly said the right things, pledging improved public transparency at DCF and committing to reviewing all of the agency's operations.

"Peeling back the layers, if you will. What's working, what's not working," Meier-Hummel said. "We will be an agency of compassion and experts, and we will be gracious."

That would be a change from DCF under the leadership of Gilmore, who bristled at criticism and rejected data that showed problems within the agency.

A 2016 state audit showed that DCF had failed to conduct thorough background checks on licensed foster care providers, failed to conduct required monthly in-home visits of children in foster care and almost always granted waivers for families who do not meet space and financial resources guidelines to serve as foster parents. Gilmore's response? She dismissed the audit's findings and criticized the media for reporting them.

Many suspected Gilmore had an unwritten policy of discriminating against same-sex couples in the placement of children in foster care or adoptive homes, an accusation she denied. She also was criticized over the number of children who died while in foster care or after DCF had previously been notified of suspected abuse or neglect.

In October, it was reported that more than 70 children in the foster care system — about 1 percent of the total number of foster children in the state — were reported as missing. Critics said Gilmore seemed unaware and unconcerned about the information. The department said last week that it is searching for 79 missing children, 65 of whom are categorized as runaways.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who will replace Gov. Sam Brownback if Brownback takes over as ambassador for international religious freedom, chose Meier-Hummel for the DCF role after Gilmore announced she would retire Dec. 1. In speaking with the legislative task force last week, Meier-Hummel said DCF would be much more proactive in locating missing foster children.

"One child away from place is one too many," Meier-Hummel said. "I want you to be assured that we have staff right now, really great staff, attending to this need."

Meier-Hummel brings a refreshing and needed attitude to DCF, which should be a champion for the state's most vulnerable children. Here's hoping she can bring change to an agency that desperately needs it.

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The Kansas City Star, Dec. 14

Why do terror lawyers think Trump voters are more likely to sympathize?

Are Trump voters really more likely to side with the three Kansans charged with plotting to bomb a mosque? It isn't, as you might expect, the president's political adversaries who are claiming the bias that implies as a given.

Instead, it's lawyers for the men accused of trying to start a war against American Muslims who seem awfully sure that Trump voters are more likely to be sympathetic to their clients. They've argued in a motion that more conservative jurors from rural Western Kansas should be included in their jury pool.

Because, they say outright, Kansans in that part of the state are more likely to have voted for Donald Trump in last year's presidential race than those Kansans who live nearer to Wichita's federal courthouse, where the case will be tried in March.

Those in the area already included in the juror pool went for Trump, too, with 61 percent of voters there choosing him over Hillary Clinton. But in the even redder area the lawyers want to pull from, Trump took 75 percent of the vote.

Since when does being more rural and more conservative translate into looking more kindly on accused domestic terrorists, you ask? Though we find regularly find fault with the president, that's quite a leap.

And quite a statement, too, that juries are now assumed to be pulling for either the red or blue team rather than just trying in good faith to weigh the evidence and the facts.

Of course, even the most basic facts are now disputed, and even consumer goods are increasingly seen through the lens of political affiliation.

But here are the facts as laid out by the government: Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen, members of an offshoot of the militia Kansas Security Force known as the Crusaders, were indicted in October of last year and charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights.

A former lawyer for Stein said his client had become convinced that if Trump won the presidential election, President Barack Obama would refuse to give up the office or recognize the election, and would declare martial law.

A wiretap transcript quotes Wright as saying he hoped the planned attack, on a mosque and an apartment complex where Somali refugees live, would "wake people up."

The plan, federal prosecutors say, was to inspire not just copycat bombings but a war of religion. They say the three were planning to set off truck bombs in the town of Garden City the day after the November presidential election. All of the men have pleaded not guilty.

Their defense lawyers wrote that the case "is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 presidential election."

Which does not sound like a compliment to the president. Nor does their point that "this case will require the jury to evaluate and weigh evidence regarding whether the alleged conduct constitutes the crimes charged or whether it was constitutionally protected speech, assembly and petition, and/or the right to bear arms."

Hate speech is protected speech, of course, unless it incites violence. Either way, we regret that the president's own rhetoric may have played a role in inspiring their alleged conspiracy.