State Politics

Senate panel’s vote gives Idaho schools new science standards, climate change and all

Members of the Senate Education Committee listen to testimony concerning the new science standards for Idaho schools.
Members of the Senate Education Committee listen to testimony concerning the new science standards for Idaho schools. Spokesman-Review

After three years of resistance at the GOP-dominated Idaho Statehouse, including more pushback from House Republicans this session, the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 on Thursday to approve revised school science standards as-is – with no parts relating to climate change deleted.

“I think it’s important to recognize this content has been well vetted by our teachers, we’ve had public hearings on this information,” said Sen. Janie Ward-Engleking, a Democrat from Boise. “So it’s very important to recognize that these are the professionals of our field and it’s very important to adopt them in their entirety.”

The House Education Committee voted to adopt the new science standards only after Republicans scrubbed some references to climate change. However, the Senate panel’s decision on Thursday nullified the House’s move because the science standards were submitted to lawmakers as a proposed administrative rule and not a bill. Therefore changes could be enacted only if the panels in both chambers agreed to them.

Ward-Engelking, a retired teacher, made the successful substitute motion to approve the standards as submitted in the Senate committee, with no changes; Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, seconded it.

“I think it’s important to recognize that this content, not only the standards but the content, was written by our elite science teachers here in Idaho,” Ward-Engelking said.

The three senators who voted against the motion were Steven Thayn, Lori Den Hartog and Dean Mortimer, all Republicans. Den Hartog, of Nampa, offered a motion to approve all the standards but delete all the supporting content. The House Education Committee had voted to remove one of the standards and all of the supporting content. Because Ward-Engelking’s motion passed, Den Hartog’s wasn’t voted on.

“I don’t see any problems with the information that is in the supporting content,” said Den Hartog, though her motion proposed to delete all of it. “My concern is that I do not believe it is the role of the Legislature and the state as a whole to be approving and putting in rule supporting content. I do believe the department should have that information and should make it available to local districts and to educators so they can use it as they see fit in their classrooms and in their schools.”

Last year, the House committee voted to remove five sections of the standards dealing with climate change. The Senate panel reluctantly went along, because at that point in the administrative rules process, if it didn’t agree, no new standards would have been approved and the state would have reverted to outdated, 2001-era science standards.

The low-strife energy surrounding the decision Thursday stood in comparison to the years of contested debate led by Republican lawmakers who had concerns about references to global warming and the origin of the universe.

The vast majority of peer-reviewed studies, science organizations and climate scientists agree that the world is warming, mainly due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, much of which comes from man-made sources.

The science standards adopted Thursday will remain in place for the next five years.