Kansas lawmakers, officials march in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., call for unity

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. March around the statehouse elicited talk of unity and self-reflection to weather hard times, like the pandemic. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

by Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — In anticipation of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Kansas lawmakers, civil rights advocates and other government officials spoke Thursday of unity among Kansans as a key to weathering challenging times and making positive progress as a state.

Gov. Laura Kelly pointed to the acts of selflessness and teamwork displayed over the COVID-19 pandemic, from front-line health care workers to teachers to spiritual leaders, to show how the principles King held remain prevalent in Kansas today. She said the state’s elected leaders must not only heed that same call to service but work to set an example for all others.

“We can all do more to make our communities better. We can all do more to make each other better,” Kelly said. “We can truly make a difference when we take Dr. King’s lead and choose to stand together in solidarity, mutual respect and commitment to making the world a better place.”

State legislators, members of the governor’s cabinet, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and members of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission were among those who joined Kelly in the annual march around the statehouse to honor King.

Following the march, Kelly proclaimed Jan. 17, 2022, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Kansas. (King was born on Jan. 15, but the day is observed as a holiday on the third Monday in January because of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.)

Last year, the march took place online to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Stacey Knoell, executive director of the African American Affairs Commission, said King’s words and efforts still ring loud and true today, making the effort to continue his legacy paramount. While toned down or better hidden, many of the same issues of the 1960s remain, she said.

“Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Well today we’re living through a time that certainly rhymes with the turbulence of the 1960s,” Knoell said. “We’re still fighting voter suppression; we’re still fighting for fair redistricting and we’re still fighting for human rights and dignity.”

The greatest gift provided by King was hope, Knoell said, adding that hope remains inside of all who heed his words and follow his example.

Beryl New, chair of the African American Affairs Commission, asked Kansans to look inside themselves and ask questions of their thoughts, opinions and actions. Self-reflection will open a path to creating a better Kansas, she said.

“When we do all of these, Kansas, America, the world will be closer to the vision of the dream that Dr. King had when he looked forward to the day, all God’s children, Black and white, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, can join hands and sing the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last,’ ” New said.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
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$1.5 million available in tourism grants, Kelly says

Gov. Laura Kelly has announced a new grant opportunity to help communities develop or enhance tourism attractions to boost their local economies.

“Our tourism industry supports Kansas jobs, injects millions into our economy, and preserves our state’s unique history for future generations,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “These grants will enhance local community efforts to develop quality tourism assets that will grow the economy and improve the quality of life for all Kansans.”

The grant program is the Tourism Attraction Sub-grants for Kansas (TASK) program available through the Kansas Tourism Department. The program offers funding support for public and not-for-profit groups to pursue new or improved tourism attractions, with a total of $1.5 million available. TASK is funded by the American Rescue Plan U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) Travel, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation state grants.

“We are using every tool at our disposal to accelerate travel and tourism across Kansas because of its many far-reaching benefits,” Lt. Gov. and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. “These grants will help fuel thoughtful investment in attractions across Kansas that create jobs, drive economic growth and improve our communities.”

“This is a great opportunity to add to the already stellar visitor experiences available in Kansas and to inspire more people to explore our great state,” Kansas Tourism Director Bridgette Jobe said.

Projects to be funded by TASK would bring new visitors to Kansas, such as museums; sports facilities; sites of natural or cultural significance; significant permanent exhibits; unique or destination-type lodging; conference centers; trails; outdoor activities that spur visitation; destination retail; and others tied to the tourism industry.

The TASK grant application process opens Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, with a March 11, 2022, deadline for submission. Grant awardees will be announced on May 2, 2022. For more information, please visit https://www.travelks.com/travel-industry/programs-and-resources/grants/ or contact Kansas Tourism grant program manager Taylor Hartshorn at taylor.hartshorn@ks.gov.

State Board of Education adopts policy to stem substitute teacher shortage

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The Kansas State Board of Education unanimously agreed Wednesday to suspend until June a requirement that licenses for substitute teachers be limited to applicants who completed 60 credit hours of college courses.

The emergency declaration was inspired by the shortage of substitute teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary policy is expected to alleviate staffing pressure on schools.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our teacher ranks thin, and there simply aren’t enough licensed individuals to fill substitute roles when our educators are sick or otherwise have to be out of the classroom,” said Randy Watson, commissioner of education in Kansas. “This is far from an ideal or perfect solution. We have to offer relief to Kansas teachers and schools.”

The idea was endorsed by the Kansas National Education Association, United School Administrators of Kansas and the Kansas Association of School Boards.

“As we continue to look to medical experts for guidance, keeping students in classrooms with highly qualified educators is our priority,” said Kevin Riemann, executive director for KNEA. “We support this temporary, but necessary, step because it gives school staff time to recover from illness without putting additional and unsustainable pressure on an already thin workforce.”

“With a shrinking pool of substitutes and the growing number of teachers out with COVID and other seasonal illnesses, this is an option we can support if it keeps our schools open,” said G.A. Buie, executive director of USA-Kansas.

The board policy and related emergency licenses would expire June 1. Applicants would again have to meet the minimum requirement of 60 hours of courses at an accredited college or university.

In the meantime, temporary substitute licenses would be available to people at least 18 years of age with a high school diploma. They also must have a verified employment commitment from a school district, pass a background check and consent to be fingerprinted.

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/briefs/state-board-of-education-adopts-policy-to-stem-substitute-teacher-shortage/.