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Lawmakers reach agreement on science standards
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Lawmakers reach agreement on science standards

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CHEYENNE – Senate and House negotiators reached an agreement Tuesday that would allow the state Board of Education to review the Next Generation Science Standards, an enhanced version of those standards or a different set of K-12 science standards.

A conference committee, made up three lawmakers from each chamber, voted to approve a compromise to House Bill 23 after the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill earlier in the session.

The compromise states that the state Board of Education will independently examine any standards as a template to “ensure that final standards adopted for Wyoming schools promote excellence.”

House Speaker Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said the agreement isn’t as a limitation on the board. Instead, he said it just “sets a floor instead of a ceiling.”

“My reading of it is it frees up the state board to consider any science standards that they think are appropriate and use those as a template to ensure final standards promote excellence,” he said. “And, in the end, that is what we want: excellence.”

The new amendment will still have to be approved by the full House and full Senate.

But the agreement appears to have broken a stalemate between the two chambers that could have killed the bill.

That’s because the version passed by the House would simply delete a budget footnote the Legislature passed last year that blocks the state Board of Education from spending money to study or debate the Next Generation Science Standards.

The debate over the standards, which is a popular educational framework created by national science groups and representatives from 26 states, has largely centered over how the standards treat climate change and evolution.

Others opposed it because they feared Wyoming would be sacrificing its ability to create its own standards.

Senators who shared some of these concerns adopted an amendment to the bill they passed that instructed the board to develop standards that are “unique” to Wyoming.

Brown, the House’s lead negotiator for Tuesday’s conference committee meeting, said that keeping “unique” in the bill would likely be a deal breaker.

“I don’t like that word, ‘unique,’” he said. “As my fellow committee member said, there is nothing about gravity that is unique to Wyoming. Gravity is gravity.”

Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, was the sponsor of the Senate amendment. He also served as the lead negotiator for the Senate.

Bebout said he was willing to get rid of “unique,” as long as there was language that put an emphasis on developing standards that can go beyond what other states are doing.

“Why shouldn’t we tell the state board and give them a little input as to what we think is important when they develop these standards,” he said. “They can still do what they want, but I see nothing wrong with promoting excellence.”

The Senate and House could vote on the compromise as early as Wednesday.

If the plan is accepted, lawmakers on the conference committee said they will not rehash the fight through the budget bill.

The Senate approved a budget amendment last week that mirrors the amendment it accepted to House Bill 23. But if all goes as planned, the lawmakers plan to tell the Joint Appropriations Committee to remove the Senate’s amendment.

“I don’t want to do this again,” Bebout said.

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