Senate Education to take up science standards Wednesday

The Senate will take its first run at Idaho’s science standards controversy Wednesday — but don’t expect a decision right away.

The Senate Education Committee has science standards on the end of its Wednesday afternoon agenda.

The issue is now in Senate Education’s hands, after the House Education Committee voted Feb. 7 to remove a standard referring to air pollution and fossil fuels, and roughly a dozen pages of supporting content from the standards that references global warming numerous times.

The standards provide a baseline for teaching science in Idaho’s classrooms. Although teachers have the option of going beyond these minimums, these standards and their supporting content offer teachers a guideline for science instruction in districts large and small.

In essence, Senate Education has veto power over the House’s action. Because the academic standards are an administrative rule, not a bill, the decision will be made in the two education committees. And only one of the two committees need approve a rule. So if Senate Education approves the standards in full — and approves the wording House Education removed — that decision will override the House vote.

Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer wouldn’t tip his hand on what might happen. He said he has not polled committee members about where they stand. He said he has discussed the issue with his House counterpart, Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, but he stressed that he meets weekly with VanOrden.

“That doesn’t mean we have agreement,” said Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

Mortimer was clear on one point: His committee won’t vote until next week. He said he wants to separate the vote from what could be emotional public hearings, giving the vote some time to “mature.”

The issue has had some time to mature already. For three sessions, legislators have wrangled over the wording of science standards — and how to address topics such as global warming.

The committee will likely take about an hour’s worth of testimony Wednesday, said Senate Education vice chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. Thayn presides over Senate Education’s hearings on agency rules.

Testimony was one-sided earlier this month, when House Education held two days of hearings. In all, 28 people testified — and every one supported adopting the standards in full.

Wednesday’s hearing will begin at 3 p.m. in room WW55 of the Statehouse’s garden level.



Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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