Kansas Primary Seen as Signaling Shift In Evolution Stance
Some political watchdogs in Kansas are predicting that the state's controversial science standards adopted last year will soon be a thing of the past. The Republican primary election last month, they say, portends a shift in the ideological winds on the state board of education.
Five seats on the 10-member school board are up for grabs on Election Day this November. The race has reopened the heated debate—both within the state and around the country—that surrounded the board's 6-4 decision in August 1999 to strip most references to evolution and the origin of the universe from the science standards.
The outcome of the state's GOP primary last month means that three of the five Republicans on the ticket Nov. 7—all of whom face Democratic challengers opposed to the new standards—will be moderates.
Meanwhile, the five board members whose seats are not up for election this year now include one Democrat and two Republicans who voted against the standards, as well as two Republicans who supported them.
As a result, it appears that no more than four seats on the board—and possibly fewer— will be held by conservative supporters of the 1999 standards following the November election.
John H. Calvert, the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Kansas City, Kan., that supported the new science standards, said he expected "a major change" in the board's composition.
"We're disappointed," Mr. Calvert said. "We anticipate the science standards will change."
Of the five seats on the Kansas board up for election this year, four have been held by conservative Republicans who supported the revised standards, while a fifth is currently held by a Democrat who opposed the changes.
In the state's Republican primary on Aug. 1, politically moderate GOP challengers ousted two conservative incumbents, including Linda Holloway, the board's chairwoman during the evolution debate.
A third Republican incumbent—another leading supporter of the revised standards—survived a challenge from a more moderate contender. But a moderate won the GOP nod for a fourth seat that was recently vacated by a conservative Republican who left the state. A fifth conservative Republican who is hoping to oust an incumbent Democrat was not challenged in the primary.
"The voters of Kansas spoke, and they don't want their children educated as science illiterates," said Judith E. Schaeffer, the deputy legal director for the People for the American Way Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy organization that opposes religious teaching and practices in the public schools.
In its action just over a year ago, the board deleted most references to evolution from the standards, as well as accounts of the origin of the universe and the development of the Earth that conflict with the biblical version of creation. While the board did not ban the teaching of evolution, and districts may opt not to use the standards, they are the basis for state science tests under development.("Kansas Evolution Controversy Gives Rise To National Debate," Sept. 8, 1999.)
Sue Gamble, the Republican who beat Ms. Holloway, said she has already discussed shifting the emphasis of the standards with board members who are not up for re-election. "We have talked ... and made no bones about the fact that the first thing we'd do is change the science standards," she said.
Vol. 20, Issue 1, Page 36