MICHELE NORRIS, host:
School board primaries are often sleepy, summer elections that see low voter turnout. But the one in Kansas tomorrow is big news. The State Board of Education has been a lightning rod, largely based on its decision last year to adopt science standards critical of evolution. That move brought national attention and a lot of criticism for the board members and for the state. Four of the six seats currently held by conservatives are up for grabs tomorrow. Moderates are hoping to regain control and reverse policies they say have made Kansas a punch line on late night TV.
From member station KCUR, Laura Ziegler reports.
LAURA ZIEGLER reporting:
If the moderates win a majority, the board will veer almost certainly in an entirely different direction, not a moment too soon to restore its image in the eyes of the nation, says M.T. Ligget(ph). He's a moderate who's challenging the conservative candidate from the Seventh District in south central Kansas.
Mr. M.T. LIGGET (Running for Kansas school board seat): They're looking at us like we're crackers, rednecks. How many dogs do you got under the porch?
ZIEGLER: Ligget is one of a slate of 16 candidates in this year's election, more than twice the number in the typically overlooked school board races. Janet Waugh(ph) is one of the moderates on the board who turned out for a large rally on a recent steamy Sunday afternoon. She's an incumbent Democrat from a heavily urban district that faces an unusual challenge from a Democratic conservative, a former teacher from a Christian elementary school.
She says moderates like her have to be careful about campaigning against many of the social issues. For example, polls show most Kansans agree with teaching alternatives to evolution, even if they feel out of step with the far right. Her campaign has a different focus.
Ms. JANET WAUGH (Democrat, member of Kansas school board): We have been so distracted by sidebar issues, I think it's important that we return to what we're supposed to do. Make sure all of our students are educated to high levels.
ZIEGLER: But conservatives on the board say they represent the Kansas majority, and all the controversy is stirred up by outsiders. Connie Morris represents the Fifth District. It's the largest district and covers almost the whole western half of the state. She occupies one of the four open seats in tomorrow's election. She doesn't understand why issues like evolution and intelligent design and sex education suck up so much air during school board debates and on the evening news. There's only one explanation she can come up with.
Ms. CONNIE MORRIS (Member of Kansas school board): There's a small but very loud group of liberals and very left radical liberals who are just hell bent to keep the liberal lasting control.
ZIEGLER: Incumbent John Bacon agrees. He says the media only pay attention to the sexy, hot button issues, not the real accomplishments the board takes on week to week.
Mr. JOHN BACON (Member of Kansas school board): That's what they want to report on. I mean if we start talking about science standards and evolution, the media come out.
ZIEGLER: The general election will be held in November, but the future of the controversial Kansas State School Board likely will be determined tomorrow.
For NPR News, I'm Laura Ziegler.