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Headlines for Thursday, June 13, 2019

Kansas Supreme Court to Say Whether School Funding Is Sufficient 

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court is preparing to rule on whether the state is providing enough money to its public schools under a new education funding law. The high court says it will issue its latest decision at 9:30 a.m. Friday in a lawsuit filed by four local school districts in 2010. The court has ruled six times in less than six years that funding isn't sufficient under the Kansas Constitution. A law enacted in April will increase the state's education funding by roughly $90 million a year. Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year on its public schools, or about $1 billion more than it did during the 2013-14 school year. The school districts argue that the increase will not be enough after the 2019-20 school year.

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USDA Plan to Move Offices Sparks Concerns About Research

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to relocate the headquarters of two research agencies to the Kansas City area, intensifying concerns that research will suffer. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the move Thursday and said it will bring the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture closer to farmers and agribusinesses. He also said it would save about $20 million a year. But the Union of Concerned Scientists predicted the move will drive off researchers and called it "a blatant attack on science." A union representing Economic Research Service employees said the move is "coldhearted" and called for keeping workers in Washington. Members of the Kansas and Missouri congressional delegations and the state's governors applauded the decision. It's expected to bring 550 jobs to the area.

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Kansas Board of Education Reviews Efforts to Fix Teacher Shortage

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR / KNS) - Kansas education officials are hoping higher pay and programs to get more teachers in the classroom will help reduce the teacher shortage.  The State Board of Education reviewed some of the efforts at a meeting on Wednesday.  A program that allows teaching assistants to become fully licensed more quickly has landed around 100 special education teachers in classrooms over the last two years.  Board of Education Chair Kathy Busch says it’s helped in areas like southwest Kansas that have been struggling to fill vacancies.  Lawmakers have also boosted funding for schools in recent years. That’s allowed districts to raise salaries, which can help attract and retain teachers.  The state Board of Ed will learn this fall if the efforts have helped fill the more than 600 teacher vacancies Kansas schools had last year.

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Company Buys 2 Texas Water Parks in Deal with Schlitterbahn

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas-based water park company has sold two of its attractions and given the buyer the right to acquire its Kansas site where a 10-year-old boy was killed nearly three years ago. Schlitterbahn on Thursday announced the $261 million agreement with Cedar Fair Entertainment to sell a water park and resort in New Braunfels, Texas, and another property in Galveston, Texas. Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair will also have the right to buy the company's Kansas water park for $6 million in cash. The deal comes after Schlitterbahn remained mum on its plans for the Kansas City, Kansas, park where Caleb Schwab was decapitated in August of 2016 on the 17-story Verruckt slide. Caleb's family received nearly $20 million in settlements and two women who were seriously injured while riding with him settled for an undisclosed amount.

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Stormont Vail Acquires Naming Rights for Topeka Event Center

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Stormont Vail Health has agreed to spend $2.575 million to acquire naming rights for the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Shawnee County commissioners approved the contract Thursday. County counselor Jim Crowl says the health system will pay the county $325,000 in the first year of the 10-year deal, and $250,000 in each of the next nine. The event center's website domain immediately changed to reflect its new name, www.StormontVailEventsCenter.com . The facility's manager, Spectra, said in a news release that there also will be major exterior and interior signage, a mother's room and brand recognition in all advertising for the facility. The center is currently undergoing a $48 million makeover. Plans call for the work to be completed by May 2021.

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Groups Sue to Force Federal Protection for Prairie Chickens

WASHINGTON (AP) - Three conservation groups are suing the federal government to force it to protect the lesser prairie chicken and its habitats.  The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians.  The lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service has not done enough to protect the bird. The groups want the agency to determine whether the lesser prairie chicken is a threatened or endangered species.  The Interior Department said it cannot comment on pending litigation. The bird was listed as threatened in 2014 but a federal court overturned the designation.  The bird roams parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, but the groups say fewer than 38,000 of the birds remain.

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Amtrak Resumes Service Between Kansas City and St. Louis

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Amtrak service between St. Louis and Kansas City will be partially restored this week. The rail line and the Missouri Department of Transportation have announced that morning departures from the two cities will resume today (THUR).  The afternoon departures will continue to use chartered buses, which will stop at all stations as close to the train schedules as possible. The routes were suspended May 31 because of problems caused by flooding.  

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Reno County Commission Considers Wind Farm Project

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KNS) - Reno County Commissioners meet tonight (THUR) to decide whether to approve a permit to build a wind farm northeast of Cheney Reservoir.  The vote comes after months of debate about the project, including several public comment sessions before the planning and zoning commission which ultimately voted against the wind farm.  Project developer Spencer Jenkins thinks most county residents support the project, even though they’ve had to fight a lot of misinformation spreading on social media.  After receiving enough protest petitions from landowners near the proposed project, the county commission will have to come to a unanimous decision in order to approve the permit.  

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Kansas Woman Pleads Guilty in Death of Mother's Boyfriend

OSKALOOSA, Kan. (AP) — A Baldwin City woman has pleaded guilty in the death of her mother's boyfriend at a northeast Kansas lake. Jefferson County Attorney Josh Ney announced Thursday that Ashlyn Hemmerling pleaded guilty to premeditated first-degree murder after prosecutors presented evidence in her trial in Jefferson County District Court. She was charged in the March 2018 shooting death of 22-year-old Taylor Dean Sawyer in a remote area of Perry Lake. Her boyfriend, 23-year-old Jonathan Blevins, was convicted in March of first-degree murder in Sawyer's death. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports authorities said Sawyer was the boyfriend of Hermmerling's mother, Sarah Hemmerling, who was charged with obstruction before that charge was dropped. Hemmerling's sentencing is scheduled for July 25.

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Kansas Home of Imprisoned Racecar Driver Up for Sale

LEAWOOD, Kan. (AP) _ The suburban Kansas City home of a pro racecar driver -- who is in prison for running an illegal $2 billion payday loan operation -- is going up for sale later this month. The federal government hopes to recover some of Scott Tucker's assets to pay back cheated consumers.  The Kansas City Star reports that Scott Tucker's house in Leawood  has a listing price of $2.1 million.  Internal Revenue Service agents took possession of the 4,500-square-foot house in March after Tucker's wife abandoned the property, leaving furnishings, an artwork collection and exercise equipment behind. The estate sale starts June 21.  Prosecutors say the former American Le Mans Series champion preyed on vulnerable borrowers and used the payday lending business proceeds to finance a professional auto racing team. He's currenty serving more than 16 years in prison on fraud and other charges.

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Body Recovered of Fleeing Man Who Shot Himself in River

GREAT BEND, Kan. (AP) - Authorities have found the body of a Kansas parole absconder who fled from law enforcement and then waded into a river and shot himself to avoid being apprehended.  The Great Bend Tribune reports that 36-year-old Nicholas Lee Curtice fled Monday night when deputies attempted to stop his vehicle in Great Bend.  Barton County Sheriff Brian Bellendir said in a news release that the pursuit ended when the vehicle hit a ravine. The release says Curtice then shot himself in the Arkansas River in about 4 feet (1.22 meters) of water. The Great Bend Fire Department's swift water rescue team found his body Tuesday about 1,200 feet (365 meters) downstream.  Records show he had an extensive criminal history that included an April 2018 pursuit in which he hit a deer before he was apprehended.

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Health Experts Tout Anti-Vaping Tactics for Kansas Schools

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - Health advocates say the epidemic of vaping in Kansas schools can be addressed with the same toolkit used to fight traditional smoking. One of the most successful anti-smoking tactics involved dismantling the positive image the tobacco industry had built around cigarettes. But Sara Prem with the American Lung Association says they learned that the message needs to come from other students, especially older ones.  The Kansas State Board of Education is requiring schools to warn students of the dangers of vaping starting next year. It’s also directing a new task force to suggest policy changes and update the board monthly.

(AP version)

Kansas Officials Vote to Launch Anti-Vaping Campaign

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas officials want to put the brakes on vaping in public schools as usage soars.  The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that the Kansas State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to launch an anti-vaping campaign.  Officials say local school boards need to amend student codes of conduct and district disciplinary policy to outline sanctions for those caught vaping. The state board also agreed to formalize and expand an ad-hoc task force that recommended swift action to dampen demand by youths for the sweet-flavored alternative to smoking.  Kansas State Department of Education commissioner Randy Watson says estimates that half of students in Kansas high school were involved in vaping justified an aggressive statewide response. He described it as a public health epidemic.

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Maize High School Goes Solar

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - One of the largest privately-owned solar power systems in the Kansas is operational at a Wichita-area high school.  Maize High School on Tuesday switched on a system with 720 solar panels that will generate enough energy in one day to power the school for a month.  Physics and chemistry teacher Stan Bergkamp says the 240 kilowatt system is 400 feet long and 75 feet wide. It sits next to the high school.  The Wichita Eagle report s Bergkamp said he promoted the project in response to the threat of climate change.  He estimates once the system is paid for, it will save the school $3,200 a month and reduce annual carbon emissions by 240 tons.  ICM Inc. bought the $400,000 system and will lease it to Maize High School for six years.

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Lawyers Chant "We Need Support" to Protest Bra Screenings in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Kansas City area attorneys have taken to the street to protest a jail security policy that prevents them from meeting face-to-face with clients if they are wearing underwire bras -- unless they first remove them for screening.  The Kansas City Star reports that about 75 female attorneys and supporters stood on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse on Wednesday, chanting "We need support!''  They say that when their bras set off metal detectors, they must either remove them or meet with their clients via phone and separated by a window. The attorneys call that discriminatory because male attorneys aren't affected.  Jail officials say the rule is justified because bras can hold sharp objects and other dangerous contraband. Sheriff Darryl Forte said later that he's willing to meet with the protesters.

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Kansas Teen Who Died at Colorado Camp Likely Had Blood Clot

WESTCLIFFE, Colo. (AP) — Authorities say a Kansas teenager who died at a Colorado church camp likely had a blood clot that lodged in his lung. Custer County Sheriff Shannon Byerly said in a news release that preliminary autopsy results indicate that 16-year-old Demarius Cox, of Hillsboro, Kansas, had a pulmonary embolism. Emergency crews rushed to the Sky Ranch Horn Creek summer camp Friday morning after receiving a report that the teen wasn't breathing. The camp is in a rural area of the Rocky Mountains near Westcliffe, about 150 miles (241 kilometers) southwest of Denver. Demarius had been visiting the camp as part of a Hillsboro church's youth group. He had run track this year for his high school.

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Coroner IDs Kansas City Area Pilot Killed in Grain Bin Crash

BUTLER, Mo. (AP) - Authorities say a pilot killed when his small plane crashed into a western Missouri grain bin was an 80-year-old man who split his time between Florida and Kansas City.  Bates County Coroner Greg Mullinax identified him as John McConnell Jr. He was the only person aboard the eight-seat Cessna 425 when it crashed around 10:30 am Monday near the airport in Butler, Missouri, which is about 55 miles north of Kansas City. The cause of the crash is under investigation.  The flight tracking site FlightAware shows that the plane had left the airport in Vero Beach, Florida, where he had a home, several hours earlier. It was headed to New Century AirCenter in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe.   

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Fisherman Reels in Record-Breaking Fish at Kansas Reservoir

PRETTY PRAIRIE, Kan. (AP) — A fisherman has reeled in a record-breaking, 66-pound bigmouth buffalo fish at a Kansas reservoir.  The Wichita Eagle reports that Trey Patterson, from Cheney, caught the 45.75 inch fish on June 8 while out with his father and brother-in-law on the east side of Refuge Point at the Cheney Reservoir.  When he first felt a bite on his line, Patterson thought he had a big wiper fish because that's what they had been fishing for and that type of fish is known to fight back. He says it took about 25 minutes to reel it in.  It weighed 4 pounds more than the previous record-holder that a bowfisher caught in 2016 in Milford Reservoir.

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Big Brutus Attraction in Southeast Kansas Adds Another Coal Mining Shovel

WEST MINERAL, Kan. (AP) - A historic coal mining shovel that was hidden under bramble for more than 70 years has gone on display in southeast Kansas alongside its more well-known successor, an 11-million pound orange giant known as Big Brutus.  The Joplin Globe reports that a ceremony to dedicate the Markley shovel is slated for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Big Brutus Visitors Center, a nonprofit museum in West Mineral.  Coal mine operator Perry Markley designed and built the shovel in the early 1900s using junkyard parts. The machine was one of the first mining shovels to be equipped with a round dipper stick that allowed the bucket to swivel.  It later was used as a prototype to construct other machines like the 160-foot tall Big Brutus.

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Kansas Jayhawks Land Jalen Wilson, Last Remaining Top-50 Recruit

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has landed small forward Jalen Wilson, the last remaining top-50 prospect, to polish off a recruiting class that will finish among the top 20 in the country. The 6-foot-8 Wilson was a longtime commit to Michigan, but he reopened his recruitment when coach John Beilein left the Wolverines for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wilson took visits to North Carolina and Kansas before making his pledge to the Jayhawks public on Wednesday.  Kansas missed out on several elite prospects early in the recruiting cycle, but coach Bill Self finished strongly by landing a quartet of four-star prospects in Wilson, fellow forward Tristan Enaruna and top-150 guards Isaac McBride and Christian Braun. The Jayhawks also landed Iowa graduate transfer Isaiah Moss this week.

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