Archive for Sunday, May 22, 2005

State science hearings may drive ‘06 election

4 Board of Ed seats to be decided next year

May 22, 2005


— If history is any guide, the August 2006 Republican Party primary in Kansas' State Board of Education races will be a donnybrook.

That's because in 1999, conservatives on the board were in the majority and voted to de-emphasize evolution teaching. The very next year, moderates won back the majority in high-profile elections, and put evolution back in.

In recent weeks, conservatives, who have since 2000 reclaimed a 6-4 majority on the board, held hearings to showcase critics of evolution and are expected to adopt science standards for schools that would include criticism of evolution.

A little more than 14 months from now, four board seats filled by conservatives - those of John Bacon, of Olathe, Connie Morris, of St. Francis, Kenneth Willard, of Hutchinson, and Iris Van Meter, of Thayer - will be up for election.

"It's really up to the moderate Republicans to do something," said Caroline McKnight, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition, a Johnson County organization that supports the teaching of evolution.

Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University, said he expected the Republican Party primary in the education board races "to be very contentious." The debate over evolution, he said, "is a question that carries a lot of intensity on both sides."

Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, said that he hoped substantial candidates would emerge to challenge the conservatives.

"It will definitely be an election that determines the direction of the board," he said.

Linda Holloway, of Shawnee, a former board member who was ousted after she led the 1999 effort to de-emphasize evolution, however, said she believed conservatives would be able to better defend their position this time around.

Holloway said she felt her tenure on the board was misrepresented in the media and that led to her defeat. Now, she said, with increased use of the Internet, conservatives will be better able to get their message out and answer the critics.

Willard, one of the conservatives whose seat will be up in 2006, said he hoped there wouldn't be a lot of animosity during the primary. But he added, "You never know, primaries are made for those kinds of battles."

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