Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.  

Celia also has a master’s degree in bilingualism studies from Stockholm University in Sweden. Before she landed in Kansas, Celia worked as a reporter for The American Lawyer in New York, translated Chinese law articles, and was a reporter and copy editor for the Taipei Times.

 

Fewer than 40 percent of Kansas students are on track to be academically prepared for college, community college or technical school as measured by their scores on the state’s standardized math and English tests.

Scores on English language arts tests went down for the second year in a row. About 38 percent of students scored proficient in that subject in spring 2017.

Kansas’ plans to migrate driver’s license records for about 2 million people from an aged mainframe to new information technology infrastructure remain troubled, a new report indicates.

Some portions of the already-delayed KanLicense project have been further postponed, a team of legislative auditors wrote in the report, with plans to carry them out after the project’s go-live date in early January.

Last week the state lost again at the Kansas Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that Kansas is underfunding its public schools, with repercussions for academically struggling children across the state — and especially for students and taxpayers who live in resource-poor school districts. 

The fight over an oil-related waste disposal well in Kansas’ Flint Hills has broadened into a campaign to protest similar wells across several counties and lobby lawmakers for regulatory changes.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2 with additional information.

The Kansas Supreme Court on Monday struck down the state’s aid to schools as unconstitutionally low — and unfair to poor school districts in particular. The decision could pressure lawmakers to increase school funding by hundreds of millions dollars.

Kansas education officials did little to promote a public comment period for a school accountability plan designed to steer the state through 2030 and guide nearly $2 billion in federal spending.

While some states that publicized town halls and launched online surveys for their plans collected comments by the thousands, Kansas officials didn’t use such tools nor issue news releases or social media posts about the state’s public comment period.

Kansas Revenue Secretary Sam Williams assured lawmakers Friday that the state’s new driver’s license system is on course for a smooth rollout at the start of 2018, despite auditor concerns to the contrary.

At issue is a critical Department of Revenue information technology project — known as KanDrive or KanLicense — to migrate records for about 2 million people from an aged mainframe to a new system. Access to those records is critical for motor vehicle offices and law enforcement agencies.

Millions of victims of a data hack that targeted a Kansas state agency in possession of Social Security numbers were not informed of the breach directly, according to information obtained through an open records request.

The Kansas Department of Commerce says it only had valid email addresses for about 2.5 million of the more than 6 million job seeker accounts that were exposed. It sent notices to those addresses and further spread word of the hack through news releases and other public messages.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos touted the importance of making higher education accessible Thursday while on a whirlwind tour of vocational classrooms at Johnson County Community College.

The highly orchestrated two-hour visit included stops to view spaces used for teaching automotive, electrical, welding, nursing and culinary programs.

The stop was part of a six-state tour in which DeVos has traveled to public and private schools, highlighting themes ranging from services for children with autism to Native American education.

Kansas is setting aspirations for much higher math and reading competency among the class of 2030 — today’s kindergartners — in a long-term accountability plan for its public schools.

Kansas officials submitted the accountability blueprint Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Education. It does not include language promoting controversial school choice concepts that Gov. Sam Brownback’s office advocated for, according to staff at the state education department.

Kansas continues to face a teacher shortage, with schools reporting 440 vacancies this school year.

Those empty jobs worry educators because they force schools into workarounds, such as larger class sizes or long-term substitutes. They can also reduce class offerings and lessen support for special-education students.

Janet Waugh represents Kansas City, Kansas on the State Board of Education. She calls the situation heart breaking.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen / Kansas News Service

Lawmakers remain concerned about potential snags as Kansas wraps up years of work on migrating driver’s license records from an old mainframe computer to newer infrastructure ahead of a January launch date. 

Rep. Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Information Technology, asked legislative auditing staff Friday whether the state might see a repeat of the technical woes that plagued the first phase of the same project five years ago. 

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is touting a controversial multistate voter database as a key resource in response to U.S. Department of Justice questions about Kansas’ compliance with federal voting law.

In a recent letter to the Justice Department, obtained by the Kansas News Service through an open records request, Kobach describes the database as “one of the most important systems” Kansas uses to check the accuracy of voter rolls.

A Democratic candidate for Kansas governor says the Brownback administration is bent on privatizing a key mental health facility.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has unveiled a proposal to build a new mental hospital at Osawatomie, which a Tennessee company would run.

But Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward says the agency should be exploring in-house options.

"This administration has a terrible history of privatization. Whether it be child support collection, DCF, KanCare,” Ward says.

A decade after Kansas unveiled plans to migrate its driver’s license records from an aged mainframe to modern information technology infrastructure, the effort remains incomplete and, auditors say, troubled.

Fourteen schools in seven school districts across Kansas will work this year on revamping the way they serve children, with the goal of becoming statewide models for overhauling primary and secondary education.

The education department is branding the effort to re-envision schools as Kansas’ version of “a moon shot,” referring to the U.S. race to put a man on the moon in the 1960s.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday touted his credentials and passion for helping the Trump administration mitigate religious persecution around the globe.

The prospective ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom said he does not know how long it might take for the U.S. Senate to consider his nomination by President Donald Trump, and he hasn’t yet decided when to turn over the reins to his lieutenant governor, Jeff Colyer.

A fresh legal challenge to the state’s 2014 elimination of teacher job protections has reached the Kansas Supreme Court, close on the heels of a separate lawsuit that proved unsuccessful six months ago.

Hackers who breached a Kansas Department of Commerce data system used by multiple states gained access to more than 5.5 million Social Security numbers and put the agency on the hook to pay for credit monitoring services for all victims.

The Kansas State Department of Education is asking schools to increase the number of students who go on to college or vocational programs within two years of leaving high school.

The department released new district-by-district data this month as part of its push toward that end.

Attorneys for the state and the Legislature faced a barrage of questions from skeptical Kansas Supreme Court justices Tuesday scrutinizing the Legislature’s school finance plan.

A new math class being piloted by dozens of high schools across Kansas seeks to save students stress, time and money when they reach college.

Currently, about one-third of students who continue to two- and four-year colleges in Kansas don’t score high enough on placement tests to enroll directly in college algebra, a class most need in order to graduate.

Instead, they work their way up through remedial classes, a process that can take multiple semesters.

The Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit is in its seventh year. In that time, the case has led to repeated rulings against the state for underfunding schools and responses by lawmakers in the form of appropriations bills.

Lawyers for Kansas and for dozens of school districts suing it filed briefs Friday at the Kansas Supreme Court, in what could be the final leg of a seven-year legal battle over school finance.

The state argues legislation passed early this month ratchets up annual state aid to schools by nearly $300 million over the next two years, and that should be enough to end the Gannon v. Kansas case once and for all. 

Students who complete an associate’s degree at Pratt Community College that prepares them to become electrical linemen earn just under $100,000 annually five years after graduation, according to a massive database now available online as an interactive tool. 

That is the fastest route to such high earnings among the more than 1,000 degree programs at Kansas’ 32 public two-year and four-year colleges and universities, a fact that doesn’t surprise the program’s director, David Campbell.

CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

In his 26 years at Meade Unified School District 226, a 400-student district southwest of Dodge City, Superintendent Kenneth Harshberger has watched the educational landscape change. 
Teachers are harder to recruit — even for elementary jobs, which were traditionally easier to fill. 
“The first time I tried to hire an elementary teacher 25, 26 years ago, we had over 100 applicants,” he recalled. “Now I can’t get five applicants.” 

Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday signed into law the state’s new school funding formula, which increases aid to schools by $284 million within two years.

In signing Senate Bill 19 into law, Brownback said it directs “more dollars into the classroom by limiting bond and interest aid, encouraging responsible financial stewardship at the local level.” 

A school finance bill headed to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk would expand a program that funds private school tuition through tax credits.

Lawmakers passed the changes Monday. The provisions were just one portion of a much larger bill that primarily establishes a new system for funding Kansas public schools.