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by Andy Marso, KHI News Service

Gov. Sam Brownback criticized the approach of the federal government in fighting climate change Thursday as he signed a bill asserting state authority over new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency power plant rules.

House Bill 2233 stipulates that the state will form a plan to comply with the new federal regulations but places several administrative hurdles in the way of that plan.

Brownback said President Barack Obama’s administration was trying to force through in its last years a rule that could greatly increase costs for anyone who pays an electrical bill.

“The federal rule is expensive in terms of time, money and other resources that will ultimately make the rule one of the most expensive rules in the history of the United States,” Brownback said.

The governor also said the emissions reductions targets in the federal rule could jeopardize the reliability of the electrical grid.

The EPA instituted the rule in an attempt to stem carbon emissions that most climate scientists agree are causing dangerous fluctuations in the Earth’s climate.

Those fluctuations have potentially deadly health effects, as they increase the severity of droughts and heat waves and change the traditional range of some diseases.

Brownback was flanked at Thursday’s bill signing by Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Republican from Wichita who chairs the House Energy and Environment Committee, and Sen. Rob Olson, a Republican from Olathe who chairs the Senate Utilities Committee.

Hedke is an outspoken skeptic of human-caused climate change and Olson said Thursday that he, too, does not believe carbon emissions are affecting the global climate.

Brownback declined to weigh in on the soundness of the science, but rather criticized the federal approach.

“It seems to me that what you need to do in situations like this is be prudent and take your time,” he said. “By that I mean, we’ve got ways we can move forward that don’t involve huge rate increases and the possibility of the grid going down.”

Brownback highlighted voluntary utility purchases of wind energy that has grown cheaper in Kansas as manufacturing costs have decreased.

The EPA rule mandates that states lower the carbon emissions of their existing power plants, which will most strongly affect the state’s coal-burning facilities.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is empowered to form the plan, but the bill Brownback signed Thursday forms a committee made up of legislators who would have to sign off on it.

It also requires the Kansas Corporation Commission — the agency that regulates the state’s utility companies — to advise the committee on the costs of each plan and the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the plan would affect the state’s standing in a multi-state lawsuit against the EPA for instituting the rule.

Some Republicans did not want to participate in complying with the law, but Olson said the Legislature ultimately nixed that idea because if the state did not form its own carbon reduction plan, the EPA would have stepped in to impose one.

“We didn’t want to have a federal plan put upon us,” Olson said. “We wanted to be prepared with a state plan if one is needed.”

The governor Thursday also signed Senate Bill 91, which changes the renewable energy standards from a mandate to a goal and caps the state’s property tax exemption on devices that generate renewable energy at 10 years.

The nonprofit KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor reporting collaboration. All stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org when a story is reposted online.
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The Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools announced significant budget cuts today, including some layoffs and furlough days.

The district is trying to manage about $6.2 million in both budget cuts and increased costs, said David Smith, chief of staff for the district.

The cuts for the 2015-2016 school year are in response to reductions in state funding and increases in certain fixed costs, including health insurance, according to district information.

“We are in a very difficult position with our budget,” said Chief Financial Officer Kelli Mather in a news release, “and we are at a point where we have to act in order to be ready for the next school year. These cuts will create real pain, but we have worked hard to make them in a way that will still allow us to reach our goal of graduating each student prepared for college and careers.”

The cuts will include the elimination of the position of chief of human resources, and the elimination of about 30 positions of assessment manager, according to the district. The assessment managers were managing standardized testing at the individual schools and interpreting results to drive improvement. The work the assessment managers were doing freed time for principals and teachers to spend more time on instruction.

“It is important for staff and the community to know that, when cuts have to be made, they start at the top,” said Superintendent Cynthia Lane, in a news release, citing the human resources position on the leadership team that was cut. “We have cut more than $50 million in the past seven years, and there is no longer any fat left to be cut. We are forced to make cuts to things that really matter to our work.”

According to the district, additional cuts will include four furlough days for all year-round employees, along with a reduction in the number of contract days for certain staff, including teacher leaders. Non- personnel related cuts include a reduction of $900,000 in funding for alternative services, a 10 percent cut to all school and department budgets, a reduction of $350,000 in textbook purchases, and reduced spending on technology, transportation, professional development, supplies and summer school, among other things.

Besides a $2.2 million increase in health insurance costs, the district also faces costs to upgrade its technology infrastructure.

“The state is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for all students,” Lane said. “The decisions being made in Topeka will impact the lives of children in Kansas for generations to come. I pray that legislators will decide to do the right thing, and provide sufficient support for public schools across the state of Kansas.”

Across Kansas, most school districts are receiving less funding this year from the state, resulting in school budget cuts, Smith said. The Kansas Legislature this year made block grants to all districts, based on the amount of funding the districts received last year. However, the Kansas City, Kan., district will not receive any additional funding for new students, and every year, the district averages about 500 new students, amounting to a loss of about $1.7 million in state aid, district officials said.

“We tried to have the least impact upon schools and kids,” Smith said, “That’s always our goal. It’s getting harder and harder to do that.” The cuts are now at the point where they will affect children, he believes.

Not receiving funding for additional teachers affects the district’s day-to-day classroom education. The district, growing every year by about 500 students, should be adding around 22 teachers every year. When it doesn’t receive additional funding for the teachers, then the district is forced to cut something else to bring in teachers, or the student-teacher ratio is affected, he said.

The district is trying to keep its promises for the Diploma-Plus program, which helps students attend and get credit for college classes while still in high school. Either funds have to be taken from some other program, or the district can’t give the kids what has been promised them, which is not a good choice, he said.

Smith said the previous school funding formula, which is not being used this year, had a direct relationship between costs to educate students and how schools were funded and was used as a model for other states. Smith said the block grant that is being used now “makes no sense to me, and I think they should go back to the previous formula, absolutely. The question becomes, are they going to be willing to fund the formula?”

For several years, the Kansas City, Kan., school district, as part of a group of districts, has been challenging the amounts provided by the state of Kansas to the school districts. The districts have asked the courts to void the block grant bill, declare it unconstitutional and go back to the previous formula. That was heard before a three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court, and the district is waiting for a response. The district’s school finance case, as part of a group of districts, centered on two issues, equity and adequacy of school funding, and the equity portion was solved last spring when the Legislature put money into the school finance formula. The school district sees the block grants as going back on the court’s school finance equity decision, which is why the district asked to reopen the case, according to Smith. The other issue, adequacy of funding, was not decided yet and was expected to be taken up by the Kansas Supreme Court, possibly in the fall or later.

Smith said raising property taxes was not an option for the district this year, as part of the block grant legislation prevented the district from raising property taxes. Last year, the district reduced property taxes when it received additional money from the state, he said.

About the state Legislature, Smith said, “My hope is that they will find a way to do what is right not just for children in KCK, but for children across the state of Kansas.”

Sporting Kansas City will begin a highly anticipated three-game homestand on Friday with an 8 p.m. kickoff against FC Dallas at Sporting Park.

Gates will open at 6 p.m. and the first 10,000 fans will receive a Sporting KC T-shirt.

Friday’s match will be nationally televised on UniMas and Univision Deportes Network with commentary available in both English (via SAP) and Spanish. KMCI-TV 38 the Spot will also provide three hours of coverage for local viewers beginning at 7:30 p.m. CT, along with a simulcast on Sports Radio 810 WHB and a Spanish-language broadcast on La Grande 1340 AM.

Sporting Kansas City enters the encounter just three points back of FC Dallas for second place in the Western Conference thanks to a five-game unbeaten streak that has included road results at both conference leaders and back-to-back home victories. The club’s two losses are fewest in MLS and only the historic 2000 season saw the team start a year with fewer defeats through 12 games.

However, Sporting KC suffered one of those losses at the hands of FC Dallas in a 3-1 setback at Toyota Stadium in Week 2. Blas Perez scored twice and leads FC Dallas with five goals in 2015, while Fabian Castillo recorded his first of four goals and five assists this season.

Both charter clubs of Major League Soccer since the inaugural 1996 season, Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas have split the 50 all-time regular season meetings with identical 20-20-10 records in the series. Friday is the second of three meetings this season and the match-up comes amidst contrasting circumstances for the two clubs.

Sporting Kansas City begins a three-game homestand with their next two matches coming against the top two teams in the MLS power rankings, followed by a I-70 showdown with St. Louis FC in the U.S. Open Cup. The team is unbeaten (3-0-3) at home this season but lists nine players on this week’s injury report after failing to field a full 18-player gameday roster in each of the past two matches.

FC Dallas, meanwhile, continues a five-game MLS road trip – the longest in team history – that began with a 2-1 loss in Montreal last Saturday. Manager Oscar Pareja signed Panamanian midfielder Rolando Escobar earlier this week and the team’s lone absence will be homegrown midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who is with Sporting KC defender Erik Palmer-Brown and the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team in New Zealand for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

In-game updates will be available at SportingKC.com/GameOn, via Twitter courtesy of @SKCGameday and through the Sporting Club Uphoria mobile app.

Following Friday’s match at Sporting Park, all fans are invited to “Sporting Kansas City Extra Time” at Turn 2 Sports Bar and Restaurant inside nearby Hollywood Casino for a watch party. The United States’ opening match of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup will be shown at 11 p.m. on FOX Sports 1 and Elite DJ will provide musical entertainment.

For tonight’s game at Sporting Park, a limited number of tickets, including standing room only tickets, are available online at Ticketmaster.com or at the stadium box offices on gameday while supplies last.

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