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.

 

A federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union questions the security of a multistate voter registration database championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The ACLU this week added concerns about personal privacy and data security to its list of complaints against President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission. The national organization also claims that the commission violated sunshine laws on public meetings and public documents.

Kansas lawmakers began groundwork Monday for their response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s order to fix school finance by this spring. The same day, a Hiawatha senator announced he will seek to curb the court’s powers through a constitutional amendment.

Children who come from low-income families, have disabilities, aren’t white or don’t speak English at home appear to be disproportionately paying the price of Kansas’ teacher shortage, according to an analysis by the Kansas News Service.

Particularly affected are Liberal, Garden City and Dodge City — southwest Kansas towns where most of the students come from low-income families and more than half face the added challenge of building math, literacy and other skills while acquiring English as a second language.

The top education official in Kansas on Tuesday proposed allowing more schools to hire educators who don’t qualify for teaching licenses under the state’s current system — and signaled he would support changes to state regulations if needed.

Saltwater injection. Fracking. Enhanced oil recovery.

News of protests in recent months against oil- and gas-related activity in the Flint Hills has drawn fresh attention to these and other terms — as well as some confusion.

Kansas’ approach to implementing a federal law on equity in education would fail to promote achievement for thousands of students the law was meant to protect, civil rights advocates say.

But state education officials counter that there are good reasons for their strategy designed to ensure that Kansas schools are evaluated fairly.

Anecdotal evidence from prosecutors across the state indicates opioid abuse is growing in Kansas, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said, but he urged lawmakers not to forget the state’s ongoing methamphetamine problem.

Schmidt answered questions about the issue Thursday from a panel of lawmakers in Topeka.

Kansas lawmakers soon will start work to determine their response to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court that found K-12 public school funding unconstitutional.

Republicans and Democrats on a key legislative panel decided the matter is too urgent to wait until the 2018 legislative session starts in January.

They voted Monday to create an 11-member committee that will meet for three days before then. Its task will be to kick-start efforts that must be done by an April 30 deadline.

Kansas’ energy-regulating agency is trying to determine why permits were issued for half a dozen wastewater wells whose operators didn’t accurately inform nearby residents of their rights to protest the wells.

The deficiencies were discovered by a resident of Matfield Green in Chase County who objects to the wells, into which companies can pour hundreds or thousands of barrels of oil- and gas-related wastewater per day.

Cindy Hoedel wants the Kansas Corporation Commission to shut down the wells and make the companies in question redo the application process.

A U.S. Senate committee has given the green light for the full chamber to proceed with a vote on Gov. Sam Brownback’s confirmation to an ambassador-at-large position.

Approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the position relating to international religious freedom was the first hurdle after President Donald Trump picked Brownback for the role in July.

The governments of Douglas County and Lawrence are calling for changes to Kansas regulations amid an energy company’s proposal to pump wastewater into wells in rural Eudora.

Among their concerns, the local officials argue that the public deserves a 60-day protest period — twice as long as the current allowance — when companies seek to operate such wells in or near their communities.

Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said the goal is “good public process.”

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.

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