CHEYENNE -- A controversial budget footnote that has blocked the Wyoming Board of Education from adopting, or even debating, the Next Generation Science Standards is moving closer to being overturned.
The Wyoming House of Representatives Education Committee unanimously voted Monday to recommend House Bill 23 and advance the measure to the House floor.
The legislation would repeal a provision attached to last year’s budget bill that prohibits the State Board of Education from spending money to study or debate the K-12 science standards.
Unlike bills or senate files that go through multiple public hearings and several votes on the floor of both the House and Senate, the budget footnote was introduced and then passed with very little debate on one of the final days of the session.
At that time, some lawmakers said it was needed because they disagreed with how the Next Generation Science Standards treated climate change and evolution.
But Speaker of the House Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said during Monday’s hearing on the bill that the Legislature was wrong to tell the State Board of Education that it couldn’t even consider the standards.
“Our children need to be exposed to things that are disagreeable, and they need to understand those concepts,” he said.” If they get into an argument and they want to win, they need to understand the other side of the argument better than the other side. And you can’t do that if the subject is off the table and can’t be discussed.”
He added that he believes the Legislature passed the budget footnote in a “very hurried and abbreviated manner” and “without deep thought.”
Brown and others additionally pointed out that passing House Bill 23 wouldn’t mean the state will automatically accept the standards.
Instead, it just allows the State Board of Education to go through a lengthy process, involving public hearings and with the advice of educators, parents and others, to consider the standards.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said state’s current science standards have been called “laughable” by some groups.
She said she believes that the state could do better than the “off-the-shelf standards” by developing its own rigorous standards. But she said the State Board of Education should be free to consider the options.
And she said she is working on changing the standards’ review and adoption process to make sure they are more “inclusive” by inviting parents, teachers, business leaders and others to work on various committees.
“We need to ensure there is a process in place to ensure that all voices are heard,” she said.
Mariah Stephens, a junior at Cody High School, was among the several members of the public who testified in support of the bill.
She said adopting the Next Generation Science Standards would help her and her fellow students be ready for college and the job market.
“I know firsthand that science is important, and to be able to be competitive with students in other states, these standards are important to talk about and discuss,” she said. “Then we can decide what’s best for Wyoming, whether it’s all of it or just part of it.”
Jeff Hymas, executive director of the Jackson Hole Tea Party, was the only person to testify against the bill.
He said he wants proof that the state has fixed its process for approving educational standards before the repeal is approved.
“We need to have meaningful public input,” he said. “And I don’t think we had meaningful public input in the past.”