For a second consecutive day, a large crowd Friday at the Statehouse offered enthusiastic, unanimous support for a slate of proposed new science standards.
And for a second consecutive day, the House Education Committee took no action.
At issue is a politically charged controversy over the science standards that will be taught in Idaho’s K-12 public schools and charters.
The political soap opera is now in its third year, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra is calling on the Legislature to take action.
In 2016, legislators quietly rejected a proposed slate of science standards after some lawmakers made comments about the age and history of the universe and global warming. At the time, legislators said more public input was needed, but they declined to accept public comment on the standards at the Statehouse that year.
Last year, in 2017, the Legislature approved a temporary slate of new science standards after first removing five paragraphs that reference climate change and human impact on the environment. Those standards are set to expire, which is why legislators are considering science standards again this year.
Public testimony ran 7-0 in favor of the full science standards Thursday, and 21-0 in favor of the standards Friday. During public hearings in 2017, public testimony ran 995-5 in favor of passing the full science standards, State Department of Education officials said.
Many of the teachers, students and scientists who testified this week said students deserve a full, well-rounded education rooted in inquiry-based science standards. Removing references to climate change, they said, would amount to censoring their education and would hurt their ability to confront the challenges of a changing planet in the future.
Nobody spoke in opposition to the science standards. Lawmakers such as Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, said they have concerns that language in the standards pushes students toward certain conclusions. Others, such as Rep. Lance Clow, a Twin Falls Republican, suggested that scientists are at odds over the issues and that historically global temperatures have been rising and falling.
Notably, chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, did not cut off Clow for bringing up climate change multiple times Thursday. But she cut off at least five speakers over the past two days who brought up climate change, including a student and a geologist, who VanOrden gaveled into silence and would not allow him to finish speaking.
VanOrden implored the public to stick to the standards at issue. The geologist, Matthew Kohn, said he was addressing the standards and identified them specifically by name. Several of the standards he identified specifically address climate change and human impact on the environment. One reads, in part, “Mitigating current changes in climate depends on understanding climate science. Current scientific models indicate that human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, are the primary factors in the measured rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature.”
After the second hearing wrapped up Friday, Ybarra reiterated her support for the standards, saying public support for them was “pristine.”
“It shows the boots on the ground folks and the kids of Idaho are saying they need new standards,” Ybarra said. “They are showing their support for the direction we need to go in Idaho.”
Ybarra was especially proud of the students who traveled to the Statehouse to testify.
“The type of students we are educating today, it’s very clear they are not shrinking violets,” Ybarra said. “They are well informed. They know their rights. I was just impressed with them coming here and getting involved in the process.”
On Thursday, Ybarra called on lawmakers to take action, saying failure to do so will push the state backwards.
Trent Clark, the government affairs director for Monsanto, said Friday the standards contain knowledge that students need to have in order to qualify for jobs at his company. He said Monsanto employs 1,000 Idahoans, but without those standards, today’s students won’t have the necessary knowledge to compete for those jobs, Clark warned the House Education Committee.
After the hearing, VanOrden said she has yet to schedule a vote on the science standards. She emphasized lawmakers will vote on the standards this session.
Further reading: Click here to read the full slate of proposed new science content standards.