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House debates climate change, science standards before adjourning for the weekend

The final bill that the House took up this afternoon, before adjourning until Monday morning at 9, was SCR 121, the bill to extend all temporary rules. The lengthy debate focused on just one set of rules within those: The state’s school science standards, which were approved earlier by the House and Senate education committees with the deletion of five paragraphs dealing with climate change.

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, spoke against the move, saying, “I believe very strongly that it’s our job and the job of educators to make sure that kids are taught scientifically correct information.”

“This is a vitally, vitally important issue that we should absolutely be teaching kids,” Rubel told the House. “This is direly important for Idaho.” She noted that when she hosted an informational hearing on climate change at the Lincoln Auditorium last week, 650 people came, overflowing the Capitol’s largest hearing room and filling four overflow rooms. “So the people of Idaho think it’s important, and they think it should be taught to our kids,” Rubel said.

She said scientists who spoke at the hearing said the temperature in Idaho has gone up by 1.5 degrees in the last 50 years and is expected to go up another “five or possibly 10 degrees over the next century if we don’t take action. They said this will have a transformative effect on Idaho and our ability to conduct agriculture and other business in this state. … This is critically important to our economy and to our quality of life, and to be stripping it out of our (science) standards is moving in exactly the wrong direction. … This is not a matter on which there is scientific doubt.”

She said, “This is something our kids should know about, and it’s something that belongs in the sphere of science and our science curriculum. … This takes us into the dark ages of science denial, and is absolutely something we should not be doing.”

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, spoke in favor the move. “I’m better known as Scott Syme the Science Guy, since I was the one that made the motion on this,” Syme told the House with a smile. “What we were looking at was there was a lot of negativeness about human activity and its effect on the environment. There wasn’t a discussion that that wasn’t true. … The standards said humans are bad – basically, that’s what it said, humans are bad, didn’t talk about any mitigating factors, any science to describe what we can do to make things better. And that’s why those standards were exempted from a temporary rule. And I have to tell you, this is a temporary rule, it’s not a permanent rule. So they weren’t permanently taken away from the standards for what our kids are to know.”

Syme said, “The overriding concern was we just wanted a little balance in it, to where you looked at it and said, ‘OK, yeah, we do some things that negatively affect the environment, but let’s talk about some things that positively affect the environment, like wind turbines are clean energy. In fact, we didn’t go as far as I really wanted to. And in retrospect, we probably should’ve exempted another five.”

Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said, “The standards that we’re trying to replace were written in 2001, and the standards our teachers have right now are based on memorization, teacher lecture, kids taking notes, and then they say, ‘explain this, explain this.’ … If we were to reject this, we would go back to those old standards.”

Kerby said, “The standards we are trying to get are critical thinking, kids doing hands-on work, discovery, looking at data and making assumptions based on that data – we’re really teaching kids how to think. … We wanted some balance,” he said. “Give ‘em information on both sides, let ‘em think for themselves.”

He added, “There were probably 15 standards on climate change. We took out five just to make a point.”

Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, said he supported everything Rubel said, but would vote in favor of the resolution. “If we don’t pass this today, then one of the consequences is … we lose those 370 standards that we need to have,” he said. Just five of the 375 proposed standards were deleted.

House Education Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said, “It was not the intent of the committee members that asked for these deletions that these parts be completely deleted out. They said that they would like to have both sides of the issue presented. … That was their intent. It was not to strike these out and to completely keep them out of the rules. It was not that.  … They gave pretty strict instructions to our Department of Education to put those back in, but to put them back in with added language to them. … That was exactly where the conversation was in our committee.”

The resolution won final passage on a 56-9 vote, with nine Democratic House members dissenting.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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