Evolution can’t be ignored in board of ed race

The race for the District 4 seat on the State Board of Education heated up Monday over the issue of teaching evolution during a debate.

Democrat Carolyn Campbell said she supports the current science standards that teach evolution and would not change them. The 10-member State Board of Education has been embroiled in battles over evolution and intelligent design for years.

Republican Robert Meissner also said he supports the current science standards. He said he would consider allowing other theories of origin to be taught only if the scientific community came to a consensus.

“The litmus test for me is scientific credibility,” Meissner said.

Later in the forum at Free State High School, Campbell implied Meissner was open to the idea of putting intelligent design in the science curriculum.

“With Carolyn Campbell you never get a hidden agenda. It is always what is best for the children,” she said. After the debate, she noted Meissner received a contribution from the Free Academic Integrity and Research Committee, which has supported critics of evolution in past education board contests.

But Meissner denied having a hidden agenda. “My only agenda is serving kids,” he said.

He said he has had no contact with the group or filled out a questionnaire for it. He said he concludes it contributed to his campaign because it determined he was the best-qualified candidate.

Both candidates have served on area school boards for 12 years – Campbell on the Topeka school board and Meissner on the Shawnee Heights school board.

The contest is for the position that includes most of Lawrence.

Meissner ran for the same position in 2004 and lost in a close vote to Democrat Bill Wagnon, who is not seeking re-election.

Both candidates said providing adequate funding for education and retaining and recruiting teachers would be their top priorities.

Asked whether they would support taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools, Meissner said he would consider the proposal only if the private school provided the same level of services to all students as the public schools. Campbell said she opposed the idea.