BOISE, Idaho — New K-12 science standards received push back from Idaho lawmakers for the third year in a row on Thursday, despite continued efforts to downplay the negative impacts of human activity on climate change to appease Republican members.
Education officials have long pleaded with the GOP-dominant Legislature that the state’s science standards are vague and outdated, but lawmakers have refused to adopt permanent new changes and instead have called for more vetting and public comments.
On Thursday, House Education Committee members met to review the latest proposed standards and listen to public testimony. While more than 100 people were in attendance, just seven people were allowed to testify during the two-hour hearing because lawmaker spent the majority of the time balking at the inclusion of human behavior and climate change nestled inside the standards.
“Geologic history shows that temperatures have gone up and down before, so that’s one of the challenges that some people have run into,” said Rep. Lance Clow, a Republican from Twin Falls, who sits on the committee. “We know that solar activity, volcanic activity, things like that contribute. The implication of the standards right now is that it’s only human impact that contributes to rising temperatures.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Mendive, a Republican from Coeur d’Alene, raised concerns to a reference to “new species” because he said he was unaware that a new species was possible.
Last year, lawmakers approved updating the state’s outdated science standards after striking key references to human behavior and climate change. However, that approval wasn’t permanent. Instead, lawmakers put a one-year expiration date on the standards and instructed the Department of Education to come back in 2018 with new versions of the removed language.
The updated standards were compiled by a committee that spent months trying to find a compromise to appease apprehensive lawmakers while also ensuring the standards improve student education.
“Idaho’s content standards on science, at the heart, are moving away from asking students to memorize facts,” said Duncan Robb, chief policy adviser for the state Department of Education. “In other words, science is a verb. This is about what kids can do.”
The newest proposed standards still suggest that humans can mitigate the effects of climate change, but now also suggest that humans can also be a benefit to the environment.
“Human activities can have consequences (positive and negative) on the biosphere, sometimes altering natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species,” the standards currently read.
The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies, science organizations and climate scientists agree the world is warming, mainly due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most of the increase in temperature comes from man-made sources, including the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, deforestation and livestock raising.
Thursday’s hearing attracted teachers, education staff and many high school students who all signed up to testify in favor of adopting the standards. At on point, the committee chairman gaveled the audience for clapping after a student said she learned to value a strong public education system due to immigrating to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The committee will vote on whether to adopt the standards on Friday.
If lawmakers do not adopt the standards, the state will be forced to go back to the older model and start over on drafting new ones.
“It’s going to confuse the daylights out of our students,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra to lawmaker. “If these do not pass today, we are going backwards.”