Archive for Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Evolution returns to state board’s agenda

BOE members to review school science testing

August 13, 2003


— The Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday teed up evolution as a campaign issue for the 2004 election cycle.

The board voted 7-3 for a full-scale review of science testing standards to start in August 2004, just in time for the party primaries in five education board races.

"It's inescapable. It's going to be an issue" during the campaigns, Democrat board member Bill Wagnon of Topeka said.

The vote raised the stakes in the election, while also representing a compromise of sorts between anti-evolution and pro-evolution forces on the board.

The science standards are used as the foundation for testing students. Currently, the standards require Kansas students to learn about evolution.

Five pro-evolution board members -- three Republicans and two Democrats -- said that because of scientific advances since the last review in 1999 it was time to freshen the standards with another review.

But five Republicans, many of whom have opposed the teaching of evolution, wanted a more limited review; with some noting the huge controversy that erupted the last time the board tangled with science standards.

In 1999, the board made international news -- much of it negative for Kansas -- by de-emphasizing evolution in science standards.

After the 2000 election, the board shifted from having a 6-4 majority in favor of de-emphasizing evolution to a 7-3 majority for putting evolution back in the standards, which occurred in 2001.

Topeka -- The Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday recommended a 4 percent increase in state funding for public schools, with several members saying that wasn't enough."We've cut the fat. Now they're gnawing at the bone," said board chairwoman Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City.Because of the state budget crisis, base state aid was recently cut from $3,890 to $3,863 per pupil.The proposed 4 percent raise would increase state funding to schools by $104 million. Currently schools receive about $2.3 billion from the state.In the past few years, the Legislature has ignored recommended increases from the board. Several board members said the 4 percent increase was reasonable.

Last year, with the evolution issue on the back burner, two conservative Republicans took two seats from GOP board members who supported putting evolution in the standards.

Now the board is split 5-5.

On Wednesday, the board deadlocked on several votes about whether to have a broad versus limited review of the standards.

Evolution opponent Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, then offered a motion to allow a full review, but to delay its start until August 2004.

He said that would give the Kansas Department of Education enough time to handle necessary changes under the new federal education law, No Child Left Behind, before tackling the thorny issue of science standards.

Carol Rupe, R-Wichita, and Wagnon relented, voting with the five who had earlier blocked an immediate and full review.

Earlier Wagnon argued for an immediate review, saying he didn't "want to be held hostage to the politics of creationism."

Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, shot back, "I don't want to be held hostage to the press and doing things because of what the press wants."

Later, Connie Morris, R-St. Francis, lectured the media covering the meeting. "The evolution issue is silly. Get over it. Let's talk about children."

At one point, board chairwoman Janet Waugh, Kansas City, a Democrat and pro-evolution, said she wanted a review of the standards, but added "I am a Christian and proud of it."

After Abrams offered his proposal, Sue Gamble, R-Shawnee Mission, immediately noted the implications of delaying a comprehensive review. "There's another 400-pound gorilla in this room, and that is the election in 2004," she said.

Those voting for Abrams' motion to have a full review starting in August 2004 were Wagnon, Rupe, Morris, Willard, John Bacon, R-Olathe, and Iris Van Meter, R-Thayer.

Those voting against it were Waugh, Gamble and Bruce Wyatt, R-Salina.

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