Voters must keep Kansas on the right track
Voters must keep Kansas on the right track
Laura Scott - Kansas City Star - Aug 21, 2006
“Even more important is the next election — the one in 2008. A new moderate majority could falter if Kansans don’t stay ever vigilant.” Postscript to a heady Aug. 1 election, when Kansas voters overturned the state Board of Education’s anti-evolution majority:

In southeast Kansas, defeated Republican candidate Brad Patzer of Neodesha resigned from his Caney Valley High School teaching position and says he is leaving the state. Patzer was one of those who supported the revised state science standards that included criticism of evolution.

It makes you wonder how committed he was to Kansas and the big job he was seeking in the first place.

Certainly, lack of commitment is not what we have seen with the Kansas Board of Education for a number of years now.

Since 1999, when religious conservatives voted to take out most references to evolution in the state science standards, the board has been a hotly sought place to be.

With virtually each election since then, the board has swung back and forth between those who want public education to reflect their religious beliefs and those who do not. For a time, it was deadlocked.

Since 2004, religious conservatives controlled things. As a result of the Aug. 1 election, they won’t be in charge for two more years. But there is another election, and experience has shown that they are a tenacious lot. Kansans better stay on their toes.

Kansas has been the focus of undesirable national publicity over board members’ moves to change the definition of science, rewrite nationally accepted science standards, and cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

A state board that used to be regarded as somewhat useless — it doesn’t have power to appropriate money for schools and local school boards make the curriculum decisions — is having a huge effect on the reputation of Kansas’ educational system.

The board also could have a potentially negative effect on Kansas graduates’ preparedness for college and competition for skilled jobs.

But, for now at least, the voters have taken the board back to the progressive side. Patzer, the son-in-law of board member Iris Van Meter, was defeated when Republican voters chose a more moderate thinker, Jana Shaver.

Defeated in the same election was Connie Morris, who called evolution a “fairy tale” and a “bedtime story.” Those two defeats, and the re-election of Janet Waugh in Kansas City, Kan., made sure the new science standards are gone. Hopefully, it also means that the new state superintendent of schools, Bob Corkins, and his ideas of vouchers and less funding for public education, will soon be gone, too.

So what do Kansans who have worked to change the direction of their state board do now? Rest on their laurels?

The statewide Kansas Alliance for Education, the Kansas Citizens for Science, and their counterparts in Kansas Families United for Public Education and the Mainstream Coalition in Johnson County worked hard, raised a little money and got their message out.

But they ought to keep moving on.

First business up: another election. There’s still time for voters to make the board’s new moderate majority stronger still. Board members Ken Willard of Hutchinson and John Bacon of Olathe survived their GOP primaries. These two, as well as the moderate Republicans, face Democrats who are solid on science education in November.

Even more important is the next election — the one in 2008. A new moderate majority could falter if Kansans don’t stay ever vigilant. In that regard, the August primary didn’t exactly inspire confidence.

The turnout was a measly 18 percent, the lowest total in 20 years at least. In two more years, the real test of staying power comes. Those most dedicated to a cause win when others stay home from the polls.

Kansans who value a good, well-rounded education for their children have to be on guard for the long haul.

To reach Laura Scott, assistant editorial page editor, call (816) 234-4452 or send e-mail to