School & District Management

Moderates Appear Headed for Majority Following Kansas State Board Primary

By Jessica L. Tonn — August 02, 2006 3 min read

Two moderates and two conservatives won in the four Republican primary elections for the Kansas state board of education yesterday, ousting one incumbent and signaling a likely shift of control in the board that has been led by conservative Republicans for the past two years.

In other Kansas primary results, Republican Jim Barnett beat out six other candidates to face incumbent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who did not have a primary election, this fall. Primaries were also held for the office of secretary of state, two U.S. House seats, and 26 state House seats.

The control of the education board has changed twice over the past several election cycles between members deemed conservative and those seen as moderates, with the teaching of evolution being the major subject of disagreement. The result has been three rewrites of the state science standards in that time.

Most recently, conservatives in the six-person majority on the 10-member board approved science standards that recommend that students learn about “scientific criticisms” of the theory of evolution and what the document terms “the lack of adequate natural explanations” for certain aspects of evolutionary theory. Moderates oppose such language in the science standards and other positions such as the board’s recent adoption of an “opt in” policy recommendation on sex education in the state’s health education standards.

Moderates and conservatives have also been divided over the board’s promotion of charter schools and vouchers, as well as the hiring last year of state Commissioner of Education Bob Corkins.

With two GOP moderates winning nominations for seats currently held by conservative Republicans, the general elections in November will ensure that either moderate Republicans or Democrats will hold six of the 10 board seats for at least the next two years. The change will likely mean that the controversial policies adopted by the conservative-led board will be re-examined, if not reversed, observers say.

According to unofficial results from the state, moderates Jana K. Shaver and Sally Cauble beat their conservative opponents, M. Brad Patzer and incumbent Connie Morris, respectively, in the Aug. 1 Republican primaries.

Conservative GOP incumbents Kenneth Willard and John W. Bacon, who each faced two opponents in their primaries, were renominated.

Democrat Janet Waugh, an incumbent, also won her primary race against Jesse L. Hall, who, though a Democrat, agreed with the conservatives on the hot-button issues of evolution, school choice, and sex education.

Early last month, while on the campaign trail, Mr. Willard said he feared that a win by the moderates would roll back some of the policies implemented by the conservative-majority board over the past two years.

“We’ve been trying to initiate some reforms and change of direction for public education, and keep it from being so totally dependent on more funds,” he said. “I would just hate to see it go back to the status quo.”

Ms. Shaver, however, sees the future differently. “I can’t see that returning the focus of the state board of education to reasonable decisionmaking, to support for public schools, and to a respect for local control would be a return to the status quo,” she wrote in an e-mail last month.

The likely question on the minds of many observers, both in Kansas and elsewhere, after the closely watched Aug. 1 primaries is what the board will do about evolution.

During the campaign, Mr. Patzer, the conservative running against Ms. Shaver, expressed his frustration with the board’s shifting policies on the issue, asking, “Are we going to change the science standards again?”

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