Kentucky Governor Stands Up To Climate Deniers, Defends Teaching Science In Schools


Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

CREDIT: AP/Ed Reinke

On Wednesday, a Kentucky review committee voted down the state’s plan to incorporate new federal science education guidelines into its curriculum. But Kentucky’s governor is making sure the committee doesn’t get the last word on science education in his state.

Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said Wednesday that he plans to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) “under his own authority,” despite the Kentucky legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee’s 5-1 decision that the standards are deficient. The governor’s announcement will ensure the standards will move forward for the time being — they could still be killed by Kentucky’s general assembly when it returns in January, but the governor would then have the option to veto that decision.

Kentucky’s path to implement the NGSS — which are voluntary guidelines that, if adopted by states, provide standards for science education that include the teaching of climate science and evolution — has been a rocky one. The state Board of Education approved the standards this June, but since then, the state’s Tea Party along with religious and family-based groups have lobbied hard against the adoption of the rules — lobbying that Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education, a group that supports the NGSS, said resulted in the subcommittee’s vote against the standards.

Kentucky’s Senate Education Committee’s chairman Mike Wilson has also taken issue with the standards, saying in a May op-ed they included “troubling assumptions” on the topics of climate change and evolution. Those assumptions included the NGSS’s statements that “human activities, such as release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature” and “outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend of the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year.”

Only five other states so far — California, Vermont, Maryland, Kansas and Rhode Island — have approved the NGSS, which represent the first major overhaul of science education in the U.S. in more than a decade. The standards are facing big challenges in some other states — in 2012, Texas Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill said there was a “zero percent chance” the state would approve the guidelines. Texas updated its science education standards in 2009, an overhaul which resulted in a curriculum that required students to learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories, notably Darwin’s theory of evolution. And this month in Texas, state-appointed text book reviewers are pushing the state to go even further in downplaying the legitimacy of largely scientifically-agreed upon topics like climate change and evolution.

Lisa Hoyos, co-founder and director of Climate Parents, a group that’s been vocal in its support of NGSS and testified in support of the standards in front of the Kentucky state legislature earlier this year, told ThinkProgress that the group was thankful for the governor’s support of NGSS and was planning to continue to monitor the situation in the state. The group also organized a petition in Kentucky in support of the standards, which Hoyos said garnered about 6,000 signatures and many comments from parents and grandparents urging the state legislature to adopt the standards.

“A very small percentage of kids are actually receiving climate change education in their public school experience, and at the same time climate change is clearly something that is going to affect every child not even over the course of their lifetime but in their immediate future,” she said. “We need to prepare our kids to build a low-carbon economy and they need to know the basics about climate change in order to do that.”