PITTSBURG — The Kansas Senate approved a proposed constitutional amendment last week to end the state’s policy of spending more than $800,000 every ten years to ask college students and members of the military where they want the US Census to count them.
The Senate vote was unanimous to end what Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab called a “burdensome, antiquated and expensive” practice for adjusting census numbers prior to redrawing House and Senate district boundaries, which is unique to Kansas.
“Kansas is the only state in the nation that continues to adjust census numbers,” Schwab reportedly said. “I think this provision of the constitution is a waste.”
In Pittsburg and the surrounding area, home to Pittsburg State University and its more than 6,000 students, the proposed constitutional amendment could have a greater impact than in other parts of the state.
According to documents provided by Joanna Dolan, principal research analyst with the Kansas Legislative Research Department, in each of the three censuses since 1990, Crawford County has had its census count adjusted downwards by approximately two to four percent. In each of the surrounding counties (Allen, Bourbon, Neosho, Labette and Cherokee) the adjustment has been less than one percent either upwards or downwards, with the exception of Bourbon County, which was adjusted downwards by 1.03 percent following the 2000 census.
The higher percentage of adjustment in Crawford County seems likely due to PSU students from other parts of the state wanting to be counted for the US Census in their home towns or areas rather than in Pittsburg.
Over the past two decades the legislative district boundaries in the Pittsburg area have also changed. While Pittsburg and the immediate surrounding area is today part of a Kansas House of Representatives district represented by Monica Murnan (D-Pittsburg), in the early 2000s the area directly east of Pittsburg’s city limits up to the Missouri border was part of a separate Kansas House district that also extended into parts of northern Cherokee County. Today all of Cherokee County plus Chetopa in Labette County are part of a single district represented by State Rep. Michael Houser (R-Columbus).
In the Kansas Senate, meanwhile, all of Crawford and Cherokee counties are today represented by State Sen. Richard Hilderbrand (R-Baxter Springs). In the early 2000s, Crawford was part of a Senate district also encompassing Bourbon County and northeastern Cherokee County, while southeastern Cherokee County was in a separate district that also included Neosho and Labette counties. Today Bourbon County north of Fort Scott is part of a large Kansas Senate district that reaches as far north as Ottawa and is represented by Caryn Tyson (R-Parker).
The proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution to do away with the the census adjustments for college students and military members has yet to be voted on in the State House. If it passes the House by a two-thirds majority, it will then come before voters in November, where a simple majority will decide whether the state constitution is amended.