Climate

Wyoming Legislature Votes To Allow Science-Based Climate Education In State Schools

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Science standards that treat climate change as fact are no longer banned in Wyoming, now that a bill reversing the state’s ban has been passed by the House and Senate.

Last March, Wyoming became the first state to reject the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were developed by 26 states and multiple science and education organizations and serve as guidelines for teaching science — including climate change and evolution — from state to state. The ban came in the form of a footnote in Wyoming’s budget, which stated that “neither the state board of education nor the department shall expend any amount appropriated under this section for any review or adoption of the next generation science standards.”

Now, pending Gov. Matt Mead’s signature, Wyoming’s Board of Education is free to adopt NGSS if it so decides. House Bill 23, introduced late last year by Wyoming Rep. John Patton (R), has cleared the House and Senate, despite some conflict over its wording. As originally introduced, the bill repealed the footnote about NGSS from the state’s budget entirely, but the version passed by the state’s Senate included an amendment stating that “the state board of education may consider, discuss or modify the next generation science standards, in addition to any other standards, content or benchmarks as it may determine necessary, to develop quality science standards that are unique to Wyoming.”

That amendment was concerning to NGSS supporters, who worried that the amendment would make it possible for Wyoming to remove or alter key parts of the standards. West Virginia’s Board of Education did just that last year — passing the NGSS but with key changes to sections that addressed climate change — before, facing public outcry, it backtracked and agreed to change the standards back to their original version and re-issue them for public comment.

“The Senate muddied the waters with its amendment to require new standards to be ‘unique to Wyoming,'” John Friedrich, Senior Campaigner for science education advocacy group Climate Parents said in a statement. “After all, the laws of physics, chemistry and biology are the same in Wyoming as everywhere else.”

Thankfully for NGSS advocates, the House and Senate reached a compromise on the bill, removing the offending amendment but adding a different stipulation, which stated: “the state board of education shall independently examine and scrutinize any science standards proposed or reviewed as a template in order to ensure that final standards adopted for Wyoming schools promote excellence.”

Climate Parents issued a statement of support of the compromise.

“We’re glad the legislature has voted to allow the State Board to do the job assigned it by state law, to thoroughly consider quality standards from all sources, including Next Generation Science Standards, for Wyoming students,” Marguerite Herman, a Climate Parents member in Cheyenne, said in a statement. “Our students deserve the very best standards, selected by Wyoming educators and scientists, so our students are prepared to compete with the best and the brightest.”

Objections to the way the NGSS treated climate change were a major reason for the original footnote to the state’s budget: Wyoming Rep. Matt Teeters (R), who co-authored the footnote, said in March that the standards’ treatment of climate change as “settled science” carried “all kind of social implications” and wasn’t what he wanted for Wyoming.

Rep. Patton, who introduced H.B. 23, told the National Journal last year that while he wasn’t an outspoken advocate of climate action, he wanted Wyoming students to get the best education possible.

“What I believe about global warming doesn’t matter. We want students to have access to the most up-to-date science,” Patton said in December. “Kids should have a chance to learn the science.”

The NGSS have been adopted by 13 states and the District of Columbia so far. They include a science-based treatment of climate change, a subject that is sometimes relegated to specialized, non-mandatory classes like Earth Science. The standards recommend that the topic of climate change be incorporated into the general curriculum, starting in middle school.