Kansas Board of Education races draw attention after vote on school year delay

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WICHITA, Kan. — A Kansas Board of Education primary election has drawn more attention than usual after the panel voted against the governor’s plan to delay the start of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One member who had been running unopposed, Deena Horst, voted against Gov. Laura Kelly’s order, and the next day a write-in challenger endorsed by a former governor joined the race, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Five of the board’s 10 seats are up for election, but just two have competitive primaries. Horst and two other board members have no opponents on either the primary or general election ballots.

“People generally don’t pay much attention to the state board of ed. In general, they don’t make a lot of typically controversial decisions. There’s nothing like controversy to get people riled up and paying attention,” said Dave Colburn, who launched the write-in campaign against Horst.

Colburn, a Democrat backed by former Democratic Gov. John Carlin, doesn’t need to win more votes than Horst, a Republican, in Tuesday’s primary. Under Kansas law, a write-in candidate needs the votes of 5% of all the registered voters in the district to appear on the general election ballot.

Horst didn’t respond to a request for comment. She previously explained her vote against delaying a return to school by saying it is “very confusing to parents to have their local district making a decision that is trumped by the governor’s executive order.”

Three board members running for reelection — Ann Mah, Kathy Busch and Jim McNiece — supported the governor’s order delaying the start of school.

The state board of education hasn’t gotten this much attention since debates over teaching evolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s, said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

At that time, the board was sharply divided by conservative Republicans and a bloc of moderate Republicans and Democrats. In recent years, the board — where Republicans hold an 8-2 majority — hasn’t been as ideologically split, Tallman said.



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