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Evolution Up For A Vote Again In Kansas

Anti-evolution science standards for Kansas' public schools were doomed by a shift of power on the State Board of Education after last year's elections.

The new board, with a 6-4 majority of Democrats and moderate Republicans in control, scheduled a debate for 4 p.m. Tuesday on a new set of proposed science standards, the fifth set of guidelines in only eight years. Parties on both sides anticipated the board would dump the standards adopted in November 2005.

Those standards, backed by intelligent design advocates, suggest important evolutionary concepts - like a common origin for all life on Earth and changes in one species leading to a new one - are controversial and challenged by new evidence. Such statements defied mainstream science and brought Kansas international ridicule.

An alternative, drafted by scientists and educators, would delete such language and treat evolution as well-supported by research. It also would rewrite the standards' definition of science to specifically limit it to the search for natural explanations for what's observed in the universe.

But the board's swing back to mainstream scientific views wasn't likely to settle the issue, given many Kansans' religious objections and other misgivings about evolution, even 198 years after British naturalist Charles Darwin's birth, which was Monday.

"I don't think this issue is going to go away. I think it's going to be around forever," said board Chairman Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who supports evolution-friendly standards.

Last year, other states saw legal disputes or political, legislative or school debates over how evolution should be taught, including California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada and South Carolina.

But none have inspired attention - or comedians' jokes - like Kansas has. A conservative-led state board deleted most references to evolution in rewriting the standards in 1999; two years later, a less conservative board returned to evolution-friendly standards.

Conservative Republicans skeptical of evolution had a 6-4 majority when the standards came up for review again in 2005. But moderate Republicans captured two seats from conservatives in GOP primaries last year, guaranteeing a return to evolution-friendly guidelines.

"There's this, I think, political agenda to just ensure that evolution is the driving, underlying notion that has to be accepted in Kansas science standards in order for Kansas to keep its head up in the world, which is just bizarre," said board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican who supported the 2005 standards.

The standards are used to develop tests that measure how well students learn science. Decisions about what's taught remain with 296 local school boards, but both sides say the state guidelines will have some influence in classrooms, as teachers strive to see their students do well on the tests.