After the governor of Wyoming took the unprecedented step of barring funds for a new set of science standards, a letter from his office suggested that his action was partially a result of skepticism over climate change.
In early March, Gov. Matthew Mead approved a budget that prohibited the state from spending funds to review or adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a set of new education standards that have been adopted by 11 states in an effort to make sure students are being taught rigorous, up-to-date information.
The standards have proved controversial in some states because they treat climate change and evolution as fact. Wyoming is no exception to this controversy.
Although a committee of teachers unanimously approved the standards and recommended the state Board of Education adopt them, the governor’s budget was approved before the board could make a decision.
At the time, some speculated the governor’s position on climate change contributed to his opposition to the NGSS -- a belief that was apparently confirmed in a letter to Climate Parents, a group that promotes science education across the country.
“Governor Mead has expressed concern with the role that scientists play in coming to political conclusions regarding climate change,” says the letter from the Office of the Governor's Education Policy Advisor Mary Kay Hill. “The state’s standards should be written to ensure that a science education is free from political influence.”
Lisa Hoyos, Climate Parents president, told The Huffington Post she was appalled by the letter.
“We are consistently surprised at the degree to which someone with the stature of the Wyoming governor rejects climate science and rejects the importance of providing our kids with accurate information in their K-12 education,” Hoyos said.
Hoyos also said she was confused about the letter’s reference to scientists who were coming to “political conclusions.” She said she believes that “politicians are rejecting proven science because of their ties to the fossil fuel industry.”
She pointed to statements made by Ron Micheli, chair of the Board of Education, as an example of the ties potentially impacting the NGSS adoption process.
At a Board of Education meeting last week where members were deciding what to do about science standards in the state following the governor’s budget, Micheli reportedly noted that much of teachers’ salaries are paid for by revenue from state mineral taxes, The Casper Star Tribune reports.
"Never at any time have I opposed the discussion of climate change," Micheli said, according to the outlet. "I think we can have a rational discussion. ... But it has to be fair, balanced, and it has to be based on the economy of this state."
In an phone interview with HuffPost, Mary Kay Hill clarified some of the letter’s statements.
“When the governor talks about climate change he says ‘I’m a little bit of a skeptic,’” Hill said. “Does that mean [he doesn’t] want children to learn about that and come to their own conclusions? He just wants to be sure the standards as written do not imply there is only one cause of climate change.”
When asked whether Wyoming's ties to the fossil fuel industry have impacted opposition to science standards that ostensibly cast fossil fuels in a negative light, Hill said that “it is a concern in Wyoming that there has been a ‘war on coal.’” Regardless, she said, because the state has a natural resource-based economy, there is still a vested interested in science education.
“We know in Wyoming we have to have strong science curriculum. Our economy demands we produce science,” Hill said.
At the meeting last week, the Board of Education voted to send the NGSS back to the state Department of Education for review and potential revisions.
“I think there’s hope expressed by some on the [Board of Education] that [the Department of Education will] be able to take a look at NGSS and write them in a format people will find more satisfactory,” state Board of Education member Peter Gosar, who supports NGSS, told HuffPost. “Whether that’s able to be done, that’s another question.”