At center left, Senate Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) speaks with Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) early in the session. Lawmakers shot down Bebout's amendment to make science education standards "unique to Wyoming." (WyoFile/Gregory Nickerson — click to enlarge)

Lawmakers have backed off from insisting that science education standards be “unique to Wyoming.”

The Wyoming House and Senate compromised on a bill that repeals a ban on the Next Generation Science Standards. The bill now goes to Gov. Matt Mead (R) for his signature.

The 2014 Legislature tagged a footnote on a budget bill prohibiting the Board of Education from adopting Next Generation Science Standards. Former Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle) introduced the footnote because NGSS teaches human-caused climate change as a fact, which he saw as an affront to the state’s fossil fuel industry. Gov. Matt Mead refused to veto the footnote.

Both the governor and the Legislature faced criticism afterward, and the Board of Education refused to continue its effort to update science standards so long as the NGSS ban was in place.

This year, HB 23 intended to erase the NGSS ban. Lawmakers who opposed the bill tried to preempt a wholesale adoption of the NGSS by saying any standards adopted must be “unique to Wyoming.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) had previously drafted and the Senate adopted the “unique to Wyoming” amendment, which was patterned after an unsuccessful House amendment by Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette).

A conference committee met on Tuesday and killed Bebout’s amendment. The committee also struck language that said science standards must ensure Wyoming science education standards promote “independence.”

“We had a lot of discussion about the word ‘unique,’” Bebout said.

The compromise language on House Bill 23-Next Generation Science Standards-2 requires the state Board of Education to “independently examine and scrutinize” science standards to ensure that they “promote excellence.” That was the board’s goal in the first place, said board chairman Pete Gosar.

“Everybody really wants to have the best standards, and that certainly is the state board’s goal here,” Gosar said.

On Thursday the Senate voted 27-2 to accept the compromise language that deleted the “unique to Wyoming” amendment. Sens. Bebout and Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) voted against the compromise.

The House had previously accepted the compromise 43-12. Read the final bill here.

A conference committee of Senators and Representatives met Tuesday evening to adopt this amendment to HB 23. The language deletes Bebout’s “unique to Wyoming” amendment and further strikes language that ensures any science standards promote “independence.” (Legislative Service Office)

Reaction from Board of Education chairman

Wyoming State Board of Education chairman Pete Gosar hadn’t seen the the compromise language, but he gave his initial impressions after hearing it read over the phone.

“That doesn’t on its first brush represent any changes to how we had been doing standards before,” Gosar said. “We will be able to review science standards that are best for Wyoming’s kids, and ultimately that’s our goal.”

Gosar says the board will come up with a plan for how to resume its effort to update science education standards, which was interrupted by the 2014 NGSS ban. “We’ll have to figure out how to do this with as much public input as we can garner,” he said. Gosar didn’t expect the board to try to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in their entirety.

“I don’t know that there was a will before to adopt the NGSS wholesale, and I don’t know that we’ve adopted any one set of standards that had come to us,” Gosar said. “We’ve always had a few concerns that we would send along with standards and have them addressed or changed, not only from the board but with teachers, parents or standards. I don’t think that changes.”

Gosar said the 2014 footnote allowed Republicans and Democrats to reflect and be publicly involved in the discussion on standards. With their passage of House Bill 23 the State Board can now consider how to move the process forward.

“It allows us to do what we had before, have a content committee, consider all the standards available and pick and choose the best ones available,” Gosar said. “I think Wyoming’s education system will be serviced by that process.”

The State Board will next meet in Saratoga March 17-18.

Tentative meeting time:
10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 17
8 a.m. – 1 p.m. March 18
Agenda TBA

Location:
Carbon County School District #2 Central Office
315 N. First Street
Saratoga, WY

Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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  1. Good. The terms unique, settled, consensus, or actual, when used to define science, are politics and journalism at its worst. The next generation and their teachers deserve better. I think that the Wyoming State board of Education and Wyo. teachers get this and deserve our support.

    Paul Cook