Counties eligible for Kansas' Rural Opportunity Zone program. The state is considering adding 23 more counties to the program.

[imgcontainer right][img:roz.jpg][source][/source]Counties eligible for Kansas’ Rural Opportunity Zone program. The state is considering adding 23 more counties to the program.[/imgcontainer]

Four hundred fifty Kansans have taken advantage of the state’s Rural Opportunities Zones, which provide tax breaks or college-expense reimbursement for people who move to rural parts of the state.

The program began in 2011. More than 800 people have applied for the benefits. The program costs the state about $1 million a year, Harvest Public Media reports.

Program proponents say the incentives will improve the quality of rural communities and increase the labor pool. But state Sen. Marci Francisco says the program benefits people from outside the community while doing nothing to help those who have been there from the beginning.

Last month the Kansas Senate voted to add 23 new counties to the program. The state House has yet to vote on the measure. Kansas is the only state in the Union to have such a program, Harvest Public Media reports.

Rural-Urban Split on Education? An effort to reform federal education legislation is likely to highlight an urban-rural split among Democratic lawmakers, Alexander Bolton writes in the Hill.

Rural advocates want to change President Obama’s “Race to the Top” and “No Child Left Behind” acts to make them fairer for small, rural school districts. But to change the funding formulas that underpin those laws, “Democrats from rural states will have to overcome opposition from lawmakers representing major cities and affluent suburbs,” Bolton writes.

The difference of opinion is likely to be reminiscent of the split that occurred among Democrats over gun-control legislation that failed in the Senate last month.

Rural advocates say rural schools don’t get as much support per pupil for disadvantaged students as urban and suburban schools do. The Rural School and Community Trust has launched the Formula Fairness Campaign. The Trust says that current funding formulas for disadvantaged students take support away from poor, rural districts and give it to richer, metropolitan schools.

Crop Insurance Wastes Taxpayer Money, Report Says. A new report from the Environmental Working Group says federally subsidized crop insurance costs too much money and is more of a hand-out than an insurance program for lost crops.

The report says the federal government could have paid for all the crops lost in the 2011 drought with $6 billion. Instead, the government spent $12.7 billion on insurance payouts.

“Crop insurance as it is currently structured and marketed is a bloated, taxpayer-funded income support program that in many cases allows growers, particularly the industrial-scale operations that have been enjoying record profits, to make more money from insurance payouts than they would from a healthy harvest,” says Iowa State’s Bruce Babcock, author of the report.

First prosecution under “ag-gag” law. A woman who shot video of a Utah slaughterhouse while standing on a public road could be the first person prosecuted under a so-called “ag-gag” law. The law says people who shoot video of possible animal mistreatment must turn the footage over to authorities quickly and can’t hang on to it for later use.

Similar laws are under consideration in Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Vermont.

Critics say the laws are designed to prevent animal-rights groups from conducting undercover investigations of potential cruelty at animal-processing facilities.

In Utah, Amy Meyer shot footage of Dale Smith Meatpacking Company in Draper City. She was standing on a public road when she shot the video, she said. The plant operator told her to leave and called police. Officers allowed her to leave, but she later learned she will be prosecuted under the state’s ag-gag law.

Coal in Long-Term Decline, Company Report Says. Coal-industry observers have been saying for years that the decline of the industry in Central Appalachia is long-term problem and that the market isn’t going to bounce back. Now a coal company is saying the same thing. Ken Ward Jr. has the first-quarter report of Alpha Natural Resources coal company. In response to declining demand for coal from Central Appalachia, the corporation is cutting production and “restructuring,” which usually includes laying off workforce. It’s not a temporary move.

“We believe a significant portion of the decreased consumption of … coal is a structural phenomenon,” the report says. That means it’s here to stay. The report goes on to say that “most eastern U.S. production is uneconomic, adding to the difficult supply/demand environment and general market weakness.”

That’s not the language of a company that expects production to bounce back any time soon.

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