Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka public schools and co-chair of Gov. Laura Kelly’s task force on racial equity, said the group’s final report offered 124 recommendations for reform. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The final report of Gov. Laura Kelly’s racial equity and justice task force calls for repeal of state laws disproportionately preventing families of color from eligibility for full amounts of food stamp and temporary cash assistance under programs financed by the federal government.
Members of the task force also recommended the state expand participation in Medicaid, broaden availability of telehealth services, and enhance training of law enforcement officers in mental and behavioral crisis intervention. The task force urged state lawmakers to eliminate the state’s 6.5% sales tax on food, while also making certain contraceptive care remained accessible and affordable.
In education, the group proposed incentives be offered to school teachers and staff to become fluent in second languages. Programs should be developed to encourage hiring of educators who live and work in neighborhoods where they work, the report said.
The task force concluded it would be best to eliminate zero-tolerance policies in the state’s juvenile justice system. The goal should be to rely on alternatives to school suspensions for disciplinary infractions, the report said, by turning to alternative schools, behavioral interventions, family case managers and restorative justice programs.
In terms of housing, the task force suggested exploration of options to assist owners of homes in paying utilities and property taxes. In addition, the group suggested state law ought to be broadened to include protection against income discrimination. Another idea was to improve access to legal counsel among people involved in eviction cases.
The task force requested lawmakers consider limits on payday lending practices in Kansas and increase the state’s minimum wage.
Kelly said the report offered a path for improving racial equity in terms of health care, education and the economic structure of Kansas. A copy of the commission’s final report on can be found here.
“I want to thank the commission for developing another round of pragmatic, well-researched recommendations to improve racial equity and justice in our state,” she said. “My administration remains committed to working together to address inequities and improve the health and well-being of every Kansas community.”
She established the Governor’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice by issuing an executive order in June 2020. The panel was led by Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka public schools, and Shannon Portillo, an associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Kansas. Others on the task force represented the fields of public health, government, education, law enforcement, academia and the courts.
“In speaking with local, state, and national experts, the commission was able to develop a vision and pathway to move forward and improve equity efforts statewide,” Anderson said. “We are all excited to see how different entities in the state will implement these ideas to improve Kansas communities for all residents.”
In December 2020, the task force released a preliminary outline of more than 60 recommendations for consideration by government officials. An interim analysis of justice and equity challenges was released in July. The final report contained 124 recommendations, including some layered in the interim document.
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