A effort to increase kids’ scientific knowledge of climate change failed in the Senate on Wednesday, after one senator expressed concern that the measure would result in a lot of “wasted paper.”
Put forth by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), the measure would have created a competitive grant program for public school districts to “develop or improve” climate change education curricula. It was put forward as an amendment to a bill to reform No Child Left Behind, the controversial federal education policy implemented under former President George W. Bush.
Markey argued that the grant program would help equip the next generation to deal with the effects of human-caused climate change, a burden they are likely to bear.
“The children of our country deserve the best scientific education they can get on this topic,” he said. “They are the future leaders of our country and our world. They must be equipped for this generational science.”
The Republican author of the reform bill, however, opposed the amendment on the grounds that it gave the federal government too much power in guiding what kids are learning.
“If you like Washington, D.C., getting involved in Common Core in your state, you’re going to love this amendment,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).
If the amendment passed, Alexander argued that kids would be subject to frequently changing curricula regarding climate change depending on the president at the time. If the next president is a Republican, for example, he or she may choose to remove climate education entirely from federal education guidance. That would result in textbooks that are constantly changing, Alexander said — which is, ironically, bad for the environment.
“Just imagine what the curriculum on climate change would be if we shifted from President Obama to President Cruz and then back to President Sanders and then to President Trump,” he said. “There would be a lot of wasted paper, writing and rewriting textbooks.”
Markey’s amendment failed by a vote of 44-53. The vote fell mostly on party lines, but two Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk — voted for it, and three Democrats — Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Jon Tester — voted against it.
Of course, the amendment’s failure does not mean schools are not allowed to teach the science of climate change — just that the federal government won’t provide incentives for schools that do. What public schools can and can’t teach is most often the decision of states, many of which have policies regarding climate education. So far, 13 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as guidance, and those standards recommend climate change education begin in middle school.
Other states have resisted efforts to include climate science in public school curricula. Last year, Wyoming rejected the NGSS after the state’s Board of Education chariman said he did not “accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact.” That rejection was reversed earlier this year, and the state now is free to adopt those standards if it wants.