The Idaho Legislature kicked off on Monday with Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State Address. Aside from a general message of budget austerity, Little’s speech focused largely on education. He reiterated his desire that Idaho students be prepared for 21st century challenges, and his dream that Idaho’s future college students would find jobs waiting for them once they graduate. According to the Idaho STEM Action Center, more than 7,000 STEM jobs were unfilled in 2019. 

Unfortunately, it looks like the House Education Committee has a starkly different vision of the future. After a one-year break, the K-12 Science Education Standards are back for a public hearing on Monday, January 20

Here’s some background on why this is happening again. 

The Rules Process

Consideration of Administrative Rules dominates the first few weeks of every legislative session. This year, it will take longer because the House held all administrative rules hostage in 2019 in their attempt to secure veto power over all rules. 

The Legislature passes the laws, but state agencies (with public input) write and adopt rules that specify how those laws are implemented and applied to our offices, fields, factories, forests, highways, schools, rivers, etc… 

In order for most rules to be adopted, only one chamber of the Legislature needs to approve them. That means killing a proposed rule requires agreement from both the House and Senate.

Some House members don’t like that, notably House Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star). Last year, Rep. Moyle sponsored a bill in the House that passed and would have given veto power to one chamber if they didn’t like a rule. While the bill died in the Senate, the dispute led to the end of over 8,000 pages of Administrative Rules that govern state agencies and processes (everything from nail salons, to classrooms, to veterinary practices, to methods of fishing). 

As a result, the Little Administration was forced to reimplement the entire rulebook and redo every single rule. The administration took this opportunity to streamline rules and remove outdated direction (did we really need to regulate how long female boxers shorts were in the boxing ring?). The result was a reduction of more than 1,500 pages of administrative codes, which requires the legislature to reconsider more than 6,000 pages of revised rules in 2020. 

The good news is that most of the important rules that protect Idaho’s environment were preserved. The bad news is that some rules are back for consideration, including the K-12 Science Standards. 

These standards were the subject of extensive hearings, debates and revisions over three long years (2016-2018) until they were finally approved with the support of the Senate Education Committee, despite attempts by the House Education Committee to weaken them.

The Saga of the Science Standards

A team of Idaho’s best science educators and scientists revised the science standards in 2017 in response to some House members’ concerns over the inclusion of climate change and human impacts on the environment. More than 1,000 Idahoans submitted comments in strong support of these science standards in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with less than 1% of comments opposed. Despite this, the goal posts kept moving.

In 2018, the House Education Committee moved to strip specific climate-related standards and all “supporting content” from the standards, which provides a critical link to curriculum development. 

In addition, because there are no existing standards in place, if both the House and the Senate reject the current proposal, teachers will be left with no statewide direction. While some larger school districts have already adopted more detailed standards, many smaller districts will be left in the lurch.

What Else Is In Store?

Next week, the Idaho Environmental Forum will host their Legislative Forecast, which will include presentations from House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) and Dept. of Environmental Quality Director John Tippets in a preview of what environmental issues are on the docket. We’ll also be attending budget hearings to hear the Governor’s priorities on a range of conservation-related issues, and we’ll be watching other rules up for consideration across numerous committees.

And Finally, the TOTW

In recognition of the thousands of school children, scientists, teachers and administrators who are committed to a robust and engaging science framework, I bring you the Tie of the Week.

Until next week, Esto Perpetua,