OPINION

What lies ahead for Kansas? These five issues will determine state's future.

By Julie Doll
Special to Gannett Kansas
Julie Doll

Here are some topics that deserve attention in coming months. Decisions and actions in the private and public sectors in these areas will determine Kansas’ future, especially the health of its rural communities.

Trade policy

With the election of Joe Biden, many hope for a return to international trade strategies that look to build markets overseas for U.S. producers, including manufacturers, ranchers and farmers.

Kansas relies on foreign trade to grow its economy, especially in the agriculture sector. Other Kansas industries that would benefit from better export markets include aviation and electronics.

In addition to trying to revive pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the U.S. will need to continue its efforts to gain acceptance for U.S. products. That includes ongoing work that dates back at least 20 years to gain global acceptance for GMOs and other bio-ag advancements.

School funding and school taxes

As a homeowner, it’s irksome when your property taxes go up.

But when your school taxes go up substantially and most kids aren’t even going to school, it’s especially maddening.

And it’s ridiculous to pay bond-issue taxes for building projects in school districts whose buildings are basically empty.

If schools want the public’s support, they need to fulfill their mission by teaching students.

All the students. At school. Every day.

Kansas kids deserve an education, not excuses.

Immigration

Immigrants have helped build Kansas over two centuries. The viability of rural Kansas depends on the nation finding ways to welcome and integrate immigrants in our communities.

Population declines in much Kansas will not be reversed without growing business opportunities and the workforce in rural communities. Historically, the best way to achieve that growth has been immigration.

Health care

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will be felt for decades.

Hospitals, nursing homes, insurance policies, government programs, the federal budget — all have been significantly affected.

Long after COVID-19 fades from headlines, the changes the pandemic brought will remain.

For example, the loss of health insurance by millions of workers across the country will bring new pressures on families and on the health-care providers and companies that serve them.

Given the gains conservatives made in the state Legislature this election, it’s unlikely Kansas will expand Medicaid, even though conservative legislatures in states around us have done just that.

The situation will further hinder Kansas economically, as low-income workers are unable to afford health care for themselves and their families. In turn, hospitals and other health care providers, especially in rural areas, will go broke and close.

Medicaid expansion alone won’t solve all health care’s problems, but it could help as a bridge.

Ultimately, the state and the nation need to address the unsustainable financial costs of the American health care system, especially in rural areas.

Population shifts

Like many other Midwestern rural states, Kansas continues to see people move to metropolitan areas.

The 2020 Census, the most flawed in decades, will show Kansas as a state has grown slowly, and that most rural counties lost population since 2010, while areas around Wichita and Kansas City grew.

That means less political clout for the western half of the state.

Rural Kansans will have to work even harder to win support for programs and strategies that help all the state, not just those areas with the most votes.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.