Wyoming Republican Fights Ban on Controversial Climate-Science Standards

Rep. John Patton says kids should be taught "the most up-to-date science."

A Republican lawmaker in Wyoming is taking a stand in favor of teaching climate science in the classroom.

Republican state Rep. John Patton will introduce legislation early this week to overturn a statewide ban on a set of K-12 science-education standards that teach the scientific consensus on global warming.

The guidelines, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, have sparked controversy across the U.S. because they call on teachers to instruct students that climate change is real and caused by human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels. The science standards controversy is part of a much larger fight: Parents, teachers, and politicians are sparring nationwide over the question of how global warming should be taught in classrooms.

A patchwork of existing science-education standards across the country has created widespread disparities in the teaching of climate change in high school and middle school classes.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have so far adopted the Next Generation standards, which were finalized last year by a coalition of scientists and educators. But the guidelines have faced fierce political pushback in states such as Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

In March, Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead signed legislation blocking the state Board of Education from approving the standards amid uproar over their climate content.

Now Rep. Patton is hoping to undo the ban.

Patton is not a climate-change crusader. He believes the climate is changing but says that he does not know how much human activity contributes to that. But Patton says that his personal opinions are irrelevant.

"What I believe about global warming doesn't matter. We want students to have access to the most up-to-date science. Kids should have a chance to learn the science," Patton said.

Patton wants the state Board of Education to consider the standards based on their scientific merits and says politics should not play a role in that process. His bill would allow the state board to decide whether to reject or approve the guidelines.

"I think it's the right thing to do. The state Legislature has no business trying to decide what students can and can't learn," the lawmaker said.

A 30-member panel of science educators in the state has unanimously recommended that the Board of Education adopt the academic framework.

But the climate-science standards have stirred passionate feelings in the state Capitol.

"[The standards] handle global warming as settled science. There's all kind of social implications involved in that that I don't think would be good for Wyoming," Republican Rep. Matt Teeters, one of the authors of the legislative ban, told the Casper Star-Tribune in March.

It's unclear if Patton's legislation will pass. But, for now, he remains optimistic.

"I wouldn't have done this if I didn't think it could make it through. Now we just have to wait and see what happens next," he said.