Chances look good that the Legislature’s much-maligned effort to keep the Wyoming Board of Education from discussing the controversial Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) will be overturned this session.
Rep. Kermit Brown (R-Laramie), the new speaker of the Wyoming House, used his opening remarks to the chamber Tuesday afternoon to make a pitch for House Bill 23, which would repeal the last-minute state budget amendment the Legislature passed last March at its budget session.
“This is fundamentally wrong,” Brown said forcefully. “Politicians do not tell academics and educators what they can think about.”
The main sponsor of HB 23 is Rep. John Patton (R-Sheridan). In addition to Brown, co-sponsors include new House Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger R-Big Horn) and Rep. John Freeman (D-Green River). With Brown in the speaker’s chair and Berger, who decides what bills come to the House floor for debate and a vote, the measure already has two powerful allies.
The lawmaker who introduced the ban on the board funding — or even discussing — the NGSS last year, Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle), was defeated in the Republican primary for HD5 last August by new freshman Rep. Cheri Steinmetz, a conservative who was unopposed in the general election. Teeters had been the chairman of the House Education Committee, so he did not get a lot of push back from his fellow GOP legislators when he made a preemptive strike against the science standards in the state budget.
In fact, many lawmakers later said they didn’t even know the amendment against NGSS was in the budget until opponents of the move complained a few days after the vote. Several pro-NGSS groups asked Gov. Matt Mead to veto the footnote, but he declined.
The NGSS has been challenged in several states because it explains to middle-schoolers (correctly, we must add) that fossil fuel development by humans is the primary cause of climate change. That didn’t set well with advocates of Wyoming’s energy industry, who said they didn’t want students here to be taught the main source of school funding — through taxes and mineral royalty payments — is responsible for destroying our environment.
Other opponents of the standards objected to NGSS teaching that evolution is a fact, not a theory, despite the testimony of University of Wyoming scientists testifying that evolution is indeed fact.
“We do not protect them by prohibiting those concepts,” Brown said, adding that Wyoming students are “perfectly capable” of listening to scientific concepts and making up their minds to accept or reject them.
But Brown didn’t have huge support from the other House members and the opening day audience when he aired his views in favor of allowing the Board of Education to adopt the NGSS, which had been unanimously recommended by a 30-member panel of teachers and administrators before the ban was instituted. There was only light applause when he finished his thoughts on the issue — and that was from a crowd that seemed eager to clap for anything someone said.
Which means that NGSS opponents haven’t given up hope that they can keep the footnote in the biennial budget.
The Board of Education last summer voted to not adopt any science standards until the Legislature removed the ban on NGSS. The state has not revised its science standards, now incredibly out of date, since 2002. Given that the guidelines are intended to encourage students to understand the scientific process of developing and testing ideas and have a greater ability to evaluate scientific evidence, the legislative debate over HB 23 will continue to offer an ironic commentary to Wyoming lawmakers’ approach to education.
Despite the Legislature’s decision, local school districts are free to adopt the NGSS, and about 15 of the 48 have reportedly done so.