Wyoming lawmakers are at odds over a bill to strike down a ban on Next Generation Science Standards that contain information about evolution and man’s role in climate change.
In floor debate House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown (R-Laramie) championed House Bill 23 which would repeal a 2014 budget footnote banning the standards. The bill would allow the State Board of Education to consider NGSS, or any other science standards. House Education Committee Chairman John Patton (R-Sheridan) was lead sponsor of the bill.
Senate Majority Floor leader Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) amended the bill to prevent wholesale adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards by requiring that any standards adopted must be unique to Wyoming.
The House rejected Bebout’s amendment on a vote of 39-20. He responded by amending the budget bill with similar language.
That means both HB 23 and the budget bill now carry Bebout’s amendment calling for unique-to-Wyoming standards, which Speaker Brown and the House object to.
Ending the standoff means resolving differences in the legislation, a compromise which Bebout seems unwilling to make.
Where the debate began
House Bill 23 – Next generation science standards-2 repeals a 2014 budget amendment banning the State Board of Education from spending any funds to consider the Next Generation Science Standards.
“In the heat of the battle of the (2014) budget session, this amendment was not well thought out,” Brown said.
Former House Education chairman Matt Teeters (R-Lingle) proposed the budget amendment during 2014 floor debate. He said he had concerns that the Next Generation Science Standards taught climate change as fact, which he saw as an attack on Wyoming’s fossil fuel industries.
Many said the manner and and procedure of adding the amendment to the budget bill was an affront to the legislative process, and the State Board of Education’s authority to create standards.
Bebout requires “unique-to-Wyoming” standards
Bebout’s amendment to HB 23 provides that the state board of education “may” consider NGSS or other standards “to develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming.”
The amendment is identical to a failed House amendment from Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette).
“I didn’t have any preordained idea of what that might be,” Bebout said. “Does that mean the sun comes up differently than in Arizona? No.”
To comply with Bebout’s amendment, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow (R) said the new standards could significantly resemble the NGSS, while containing introductory narratives describing how the standards might be used on Wyoming topics.
Industry, members of the public, educators, and others could be involved in drafting the Wyoming-specific narratives, Balow said.
Marguerite Herman, a member of the group Wyoming Climate Parents, objected to Bebout’s amendments. “The Wyoming Senate has again burdened the Wyoming State Board of Education with a new restriction on what the Board is allowed to consider,” Herman said. She called the existing process to review standards “robust,” saying it relies on scientists and educators with stakeholder comment.
“The Wyoming legislature needs to get politics out of the way of science education and free the Board to select the very best standards so our kids are able to compete nationally and internationally,” she said.
Even without Bebout’s amendment to HB 23, it’s possible the public input process could create science standards that treat climate change or evolution differently than NGSS.
Will the conference committee happen?
The House rejection of Bebout’s amendment sends the bill to a conference committee to draft a compromise. But that won’t happen unless Sen. Bebout schedules a conference, and if he doesn’t the bill could die. On Wednesday Sen. Bebout didn’t give a firm answer of when, or if, he anticipates scheduling the conference committee.
“We’ve got a lot of things going on,” Bebout said. “It could be a while.”
Asked if the meeting might happen next week, Bebout responded that he didn’t know.
“You have to have the Senate show up to concur, or not concur,” Bebout said. “(If) we don’t show up, there is no conference committee, and the bill dies.”
Should HB 23 die, the Joint Appropriations Committee has also included language to repeal the ban on NGSS. (See page 80 of this year’s supplemental budget.) The language strips out Teeters’ ban on considering NGSS, even if HB 23 dies.
Bebout said he wants the ban on NGSS repealed, but on Thursday he introduced a budget amendment saying any science standards adopted should be “unique to Wyoming.” The Senate passed the amendment on a voice vote.
During Thursday budget debate, Bebout indicated he may want to talk to members of the House about his amendment. It’s still unclear whether that means he plans to go forward with the conference committee on HB 23.
After adjournment Wednesday Bebout said he will “probably meet” with the conference committee, but when asked to clarify, he retracted.
“I don’t know,” Bebout said. “It will be interesting.”
Update: This story has been updated to note that Rep. Patton is lead sponsor on HB 23.